Remember the Spike Jonze movie "Her," where Joaquin Phoenix fell in love with a digital personal assistant? Wall Street may be the next to fall head over heels for a computer.
Cambridge, Massachusetts-based start-up Kensho is working on Siri-like software that will eventually enable you to ask real-language questions to a digital assistant on almost any financial matter.
Kensho thinks it has cracked the code on turning a virtual digital assistant into a Wall Street power broker. The key, according to Dan Nadler, CEO of Kensho, is to combine massive databases and enable them to interact, for example, with data sets, including weather, economic statistics and historical information.
Nadler recently spoke with me on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to discuss his plans for a virtual digital assistant for financial issues.
Kensho's premise is that financial technology has not kept up with consumer technology: You can ask an iPhone in natural language how to get to Whole Foods in the shortest amount of time, and it has to understand traffic routes, lengths and density to provide an answer, but you can't find any natural-language system today that can answer the question of how defense stocks trade following news of North Korean nuclear milestones.
Kensho can take some of the same information a Siri-like technology provides—weather and directions—and cross reference it with asset prices. "So when Siri tells you it's sunny outside or a storm brewing is brewing in Florida, you know what the impact is going to be on commodity prices, wheat futures, orange juice futures and so on," Nadler said.
The limitation historically has been a computational limitation—it used to take rooms full of large computers to cross reference structured data—e.g., the S&P 500 performance, GDP, price-to-earnings ratios and unstructured data, such as elections. "Now we're at a point where we can bring down the cost of those queries," Nadler said.
You could say, "Right now the S&P 500 is trading at 15 times 2015 earnings, interest rates are low at 2.5 percent, the spring weather has been fantastic, and we are in the middle of a presidential cycle. Tell me what happened to the stock market the last time all these events occurred."
Initially, Kensho's digital assistant will interact by typing, but the technology already exists to quickly move it to speech recognition within a few years. "Trading floors are loud," Nadler said.
It's coming! My guess is that in 10 years, 25 percent of the U.S. adult population will name a digital assistant as their best friend.
Kensho has received $10 million in seed funding from some notable backers, including Google Ventures and Accel Partners.
Nadler will be presenting his ideas in greater detail at the Exponential Finance Conference that CNBC is co-sponsoring with the Singularity University on June 10 and 11 in New York.