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Building ethical technology

For ATB Ventures, developing trust is at the heart of its human-centric approach to product design

Building ethical technology

ATB Financial has been around for a while—83 years, to be exact. Despite its venerable tradition, the Alberta, Canada– based company continues to press the accelerator on innovation, particularly when it comes to emerging technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

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“The pace and scale of innovation is accelerating across the board, forcing traditional organizations to shift gears from incremental change to completely reimagining the core of their business,” says Sue McGill, ATB’s SVP of ATB Ventures. “It’s no longer a question of what an organization should change, but rather how quickly a company can transform itself so it’s ready for the next disruption.”

ATB Ventures named to Best Workplaces for innovators

To that end, in 2018 ATB launched ATB Ventures, which brings together entrepreneurs, technologists, and creatives with diverse backgrounds and experiences to develop cutting-edge solutions that address some of today’s most complex challenges. This focus on disruptive innovation that has the potential to dramatically change the trajectory of industries is a big reason why the company earned a spot on Fast Company’s list of the Best Workplaces for Innovators.

COMBATTING AI BIAS

Artificial intelligence has emerged as a must-have tool for businesses looking to deliver more personalized customer service. But as AI has become more ubiquitous, problems with the technology have become more apparent. In particular, historical data bias has affected AI technologies on a systemic level.

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ATB set out to address the intrinsic issues of responsible AI head on. In 2020, ATB Ventures developed a toolkit called the Turing Box, a framework for building machine learning that mitigates harmful bias in AI applications. Named after AI pioneer Alan Turing, it leverages both qualitative (human enabled) and quantitative (machine enabled) data to analyze negative machine-learning outputs resulting from unintended bias.

ATB leveraged expertise from both within the Ventures team and across the organization to develop the tool. Input from customers also proved crucial in its design. “Ultimately, it’s our job to build unique products that customers love and care about, and it’s incumbent on us to make sure our technology is harnessed for good.” McGill says.

INNOVATION BUILT ON PURPOSEFUL STRATEGY

One of the reasons for the success of ATB Ventures is that it’s built on a bedrock of well-defined purpose and sound corporate strategy. This allows the company to take chances with ambitious new products and services. “Companies need to become somewhat ambidextrous,” McGill says. “They need to both nurture incremental gains and pioneer breakthrough innovations that will define the future.”

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ATB has threaded that needle more successfully than many of its peers, with ATB Ventures playing a key role. The initiative is led by a more or less autonomous team with its own unique operating model. At the same time, the team maintains tight links to the senior executive level, ensuring that its innovations are aligned with the organization’s broader goals and values.

The success of ATB Ventures bodes well for future innovations from this Canadian juggernaut. As McGill says, “Given how fast the world is changing, you either take the leap and change your model now, or you watch from the sidelines while someone else steals your share of the market.”

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