Columbia Alums Discuss AI and the Future of the Financial Industry

Dec 18 2017 | Photo by Willy Johnson

In the future, will the best financial decisions stem from artificial intelligence or human intelligence augmented by machines?

In December, Palo Alto area alumni gathered with Dean Boyce, Xunyu Zhou, and SEAS alum and Addepar CEO Eric Poirier `04 to discuss the current revolution in fintech.

On Dec. 5, Columbia Engineering alumni gathered with Dean Boyce, SEAS alum and Addepar CEO Eric Poirier `04, and  Xunyu Zhou, the Liu Family Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, to discuss what the current revolution in fintech means for investors and the financial sector at large. Co-hosted by Columbia Engineering and Columbia Alumni Association Club of Northern California, the evening brought together a cross section of Columbia University alumni at work in the heart of Silicon Valley, including a large contingent of engineers.

While fintech may be a hot new buzzword, in many ways it was a disruption three decades in the making. Several financial technologies actually date back to the 1980s and 1990s, but only once the era of big data arrived could researchers properly take advantage of those tools. “The opportunity is the data...it is the lifeblood of the technology,” said Zhou.

Zhou, who also serves as Director of the FDT Center for Intelligent Asset Management at Columbia University, pairs behavioral finance, data analytics, and machine learning with massive data sets generated by the Center to develop new methods for optimizing trading strategies. Such innovations were among the many topics covered in the group’s dynamic and wide-ranging conversation, which included a lengthy Q&A with the large audience. 

In the end, the panel stressed the need for a “human-centric” approach to financial investing, especially in regards to security risks.

“We acknowledge that we will always have to invest in [cybersecurity], and to do that we hire the best people,” said Poirier, who designed his platform Addepar to address the sector’s data and scale challenges. “It starts with the people, the human side.”

“That’s what I love about Engineering for Humanity,” Poirier added. “Engineers are human...humans are always an integral part of the technology.”