Sophia, the humanoid robot.

The future, as they say, is here. Here being Nashville, Tenn., where on the second day of ICBA Live, the future was carried onto a stage in the form of Sophia, a robot draped in haute couture in the style of Audrey Hepburn, a female gendered artificial intelligence who listened and was capable of engaging in witty banter with ICBA President and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey.

The robot is the creation of David Hanson of Hanson Robotics, who has created in Sophia a humanoid celebrity designed to be creativity and empathetic, to display the best of human nature. 

Sophia wasn’t given stage time just for being a plastic and wire, phony-flesh glimpse at the future. (Nor is Sophia a banking bot.) No, the robot was a theatre prop that supported the convention’s innovation theme: “Bankers need to have the courage to do something that has not been done before,” said Romero Rainey. “When you turn challenges around, they become opportunities.”

Sure. Except Sophia creeped out more than a few people in the building.

Vinh Giang

“If that’s the future, no thanks,” said a woman in the hall who was old enough to know who Audrey Hepburn was.

Nowhere was the value of the human being defended more rigorously than in the perimeter of spectators gazing at Sophia from a safe distance.

A more palatable demonstration of turning challenges into opportunities was provided by illusionist Vinh Giang, who used sleight-of-hand tricks to demonstrate how “perspective allows a problem to flip from being impossible to possible and, sometimes, even easy.”

Giang, the son of Vietnamese refugees, grew up in Australia and left college to pursue being a magician, much to the dismay of his parents, he said. Giang believed so strongly in his own success as a magician that he sought out magicians to be his mentors in order to learn the craft. “You can decide what kind of leader you become in the future by whom you spend your time with today,” he said. “Your beliefs dictate your actions; where your beliefs come from depends upon the top five people who spend your time with.”

Bankers who want to change their future will need to change their top five persons of influence, Giang said. And like learning magic, each obstacle, even those that are seemingly impossible, require that important first step toward change.

The focus on innovation at the convention was designed to encourage bankers to augment their signature high-touch approach to relationship banking with high-tech tools that are appropriate to their institutions, Romero Rainey said later in an interview. “Community banks cannot lose the core of what they’re all about,” she said. “What makes community banks unique is that we have those relationships and we do so much within our local communities.”