SEC's Gensler Says AI Could Play Big Role in Future Financial Crises

Artificial intelligence “may heighten financial fragility as it could promote herding,” the regulator said in a speech.

AccessTimeIconJul 17, 2023 at 5:05 p.m. UTC
Updated Jul 18, 2023 at 7:51 p.m. UTC

Artificial intelligence could destabilize the global economy if big tech companies monopolize its development for financial markets applications, Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Gary Gensler warned Monday.

“AI may heighten financial fragility,” Gensler said in prepared remarks before the National Press Club in Washington. The technology “could promote herding with individual actors making similar decisions because they are getting the same signal from a base model or data aggregator.”

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On a more granular level, Gensler said he's asked the agency's staff to recommend potential regulations addressing ways AI might be optimized to benefit intermediaries at investors' expense.

"In finance, conflicts may arise to the extent that advisers or brokers are optimizing to place their interests ahead of their investors’ interests," Gensler said. "That’s why I’ve asked SEC staff to make recommendations for rule proposals for the Commission’s consideration regarding how best to address such potential conflicts across the range of investor interactions."

His speech, which did not mention the SEC’s aggressive actions against the cryptocurrency markets, comes at a time when AI innovation has accelerated, leading to calls in some corners for the tech to be regulated if not banned. The recent release of GPT-4 underscored how powerful AI tools have become, and critics have expressed fears of everything from job losses from automation to, in the most dire scenarios, human extinction.

Gensler did not spell out how he thought AI applications would figure into our global financial system, nor what decisions they might influence. Neither did he predict how far off widespread use of the technology might be.

In the financial markets, AI currently powers robo advisor-like trading programs and stock market prediction softwares, neither of which bears much resemblance to the omniscient, social order-disrupting AI popularized in movies like Her and Megan.

Still, Gensler warned that failing to regulate AI could endanger the global economy by “exacerbat[ing] the inherent network interconnectedness of the global financial system.”

He added, "Thus, AI may play a central role in the after-action reports of a future financial crisis."

According to the SEC chair, risk management tools alone cannot stem the risks advanced AI tools pose to the U.S. and global financial systems. And, what guardrails do exist have become outdated amid “a new wave of data analytics” breakthroughs.

UPDATE (July 17, 18:30 UTC): Adds paragraphs discussing Gensler's request to SEC staff.

Edited by Marc Hochstein.


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Elizabeth Napolitano

Elizabeth Napolitano was a news reporter at CoinDesk.