David Brooks, New York Times Op-Ed columnist, famously said “almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: the future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so”. Closing out the year, similar to a chapter in a book, deserves an appropriate amount of reflection on accomplishments and learnings of the previous twelve months in order to better ourselves and our work as we move into the next year.

Despite the uncertainty felt across the globe in 2020, there is no doubt as we reflect that this was an incredible year for innovations in technology, health, finance, and - potentially most importantly - humanity: it’s not the situation that defines us, but the way we respond. The opportunity we see for these advances to positively affect humankind is enormous, providing we (as a society) address some key foundational issues.

At ATB Ventures we spent 2020 exploring, and developing infrastructure for some of these issues including data privacy and sharing, AI ethics, and untrustworthy identity management systems. This reflection is an overview of that work and how we went about answering the question: how do we best utilize these emerging innovations in order to ensure ATB Financial is a leader of positive change amidst these novel, 21st century challenges?

Our thesis-driven experiments are rooted in the context of 2030, allowing us to explore the customer needs of tomorrow and opening ourselves up to understanding the systemic workings and nuanced conditions of novel change, and the challenges and opportunities that come with it. We keep ethics, trust, and transparency at the center of everything we do to ensure we are a driving force towards a better future - for everyone.

Using new and experimental technologies, we focus on building, partnering, and investing, across a multitude of fields, in order to courageously advance the future. In 2020 we doubled down on building and launched five innovations: OpenATB (including Open Data and an API Sandbox), patent-pending ATB Turing Box, Oliu, Proof, and Alberta’s Open Identity Initiative.

So why are these innovations so important? And why now? The data which currently connects our economies and systems was built from a brick & mortar foundation, and as we digitize the infrastructure, the opportunity to move this data from silos to connectedness—in a safe and responsible manner—grows. The ability for developers and businesses to leverage connected data for the next generation of customer experience is the cornerstone of OpenATB: a trusted API platform where rich datasets and ethical AI systems merge to create cutting-edge insights and innovation opportunities.

We are working to achieve this vision through three modules within Open ATB, the first of which is Open Data. Our health, wealth, and environment are increasingly intimately intertwined. The ability to stitch rich data and patterns together can create unique products and new experiences which tell the broader story of an individual's surroundings. Open Data originated in extensive research and development, through which we are exploring how to continue to leverage and integrate open-data systems into products and innovations.

The second module is our API Sandbox. With data being the currency of the future, the ability to capture, connect, combine, and share rich (private) data and patterns in a safe, secure, reliable way is continuing to present a significant opportunity for many industries. Leveraging the key technical principles of open banking, our API Sandbox allows both ATB Ventures and global builders (data scientists, innovators, and developers) to explore how the collision of various data systems can enable the creation of new and unique product offerings. This system will allow the owner of that data to control how, by which applications, and which types of their data are leveraged in the experiences they desire.

Built on top of these data systems are AI models, which we believe have the power to elevate customer experiences; presenting an opportunity to correct the path of our historic systems which are rooted in racism and oppression. Through proper governance of AI models we are able to enter the space of mass digitization and the expansion of AI technologies conscientiously and in a way that allows customers to trust digital experiences in the age of AI. The opportunity to create trust within the algorithms themselves (AI models) and the historical data (training data) to provide the fair outcomes our society desires, is what sparked the creation of our patent-pending ATB Turing Box (and the third and final module) which provides the combination of systems and methods to ensure inherent biases aren’t expedited and that fair outcomes are provided to all.

What makes the ATB Turing Box unique, is its ability to combine the nuances of human intent with the accuracy of machine-learning analysis. ATB’s Turing Box leverages both qualitative (product intention) and quantitative (statistical analysis) data to understand, document, assess, and ultimately mitigate negative-ethical implications in Machine Learning outputs. It is currently being tested at scale within the organization in systems such as recommendation engines and detection services.

As an extension of trusted data and experiences, and based on the assumption that our digital dependencies will only continue to grow, we saw a vital need for a platform solution that reduced complexities and risk associated with identification issuance and verification. This is the inspiration behind the launch of our verifiable credential issuance and exchange platform: Oliu. This platform offers businesses the opportunity to positively transform and improve the way they interact with their customers by allowing them to issue and exchange verified credentials, which we are currently testing with pilot organizations in market.

Oliu allows businesses to issue credentials which consumers are able to access and manage using our digital wallet, Proof, which makes it possible to collect and share portable, borderless, and encrypted virtual identifiers for all pieces of identification and authentication. This application gives users the opportunity to be in control of their identity and to manage it accordingly - hugely beneficial from a data and trust perspective.

In order to bring this digital credential ecosystem to life, we created (and now chair) oID, Alberta’s Open Identity Initiative. This is a consortium of leading Institutions in Alberta that are collaborating to create use cases for the practical implementation of Self Sovereign Identity through the use of verifiable digital credentials.

All of these different products in our portfolio are enabling us to take a big step towards our vision of a connected future, built on open platforms and grounded in ethics, trust, and transparency. The landscape of 2020 has given us the opportunity to explore these challenges and make significant progress towards open, digital, identification, and systems. Looking forward we are optimistic about what 2021 has to offer: we will continue to double down on these efforts, be a force for good, and continue to look for ways we can meaningfully tackle the next-generation challenges.

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season. The ATB Ventures team