Augmenting Our Skills with Artificial Intelligence

This week the news had a story about robots and humans collaborating. It focused on how robots had become an extension of what we do, allowing them to do what they do best and freeing us up to do what we do best. Another way to think about it: they do more and we think more. When looking at artificial intelligence (AI) this way, the possibilities are endless.

Gartner, the research and advisory company, predicts a third of all jobs will be automated away by robots, smart machines and software by 2025. Accenture, Deloitte predicts 40% of transactional accounting work will be automated or eliminated by 2020. This means in the next 3-8 years we have the opportunity to free up time and start innovating in our processes and business models.

Many times, technology is invented for one purpose and finds relevance and adoption in a completely different industry. To get the creative juices flowing, let’s look at a few examples of how AI and machine learning are being used outside accounting today.

Artistic application

  • 20th Century Fox used IBM Watson to make a movie trailer
  • Stitch Fix, an online personal stylist site, used AI to design clothing
  • Sony CSL Research Laboratory is using AI to compose original music
  • Google has an AI tool to generate art

All these tools are performing creative functions, typically thought to be something only humans can do, but the finished products all include a human touch and final review.

Usage in the accounting profession

What we should take away from this is AI is more about augmenting our workflow, not just automating it. Think of how it frees time and provides more insights through larger amounts of data. The possibilities are still being imagined.

For many of us, AI moved from sci-fi to daily life when IBM Watson became a contestant on Jeopardy in 2011. In 2017, it really came into the mainstream during a Super Bowl commercial from H&R Block pointing out the inclusion of IBM Watson in tax preparation. During various spring and summer tax and accounting conferences, we are asking audiences which technology they see as having a big impact in the future and CPAs are ranking AI in the top of the polls. This is not a time to be afraid of losing jobs, but a time to think of ways to do your job differently; let these robotic tools augment your systems and processes, so you can raise the value of your time and services.

If you are trying to learn more about the possibilities note:

AICPA and CPA.com are sponsoring an initiative called Startup Accelerator to help support up to five early-stage companies over the next year get these new and innovative ideas off the ground.

The 2017 Digital CPA Conference is featuring a member of the IBM Watson team to discuss AI.

There are many articles on possible uses, what will be available next?

What are your thoughts on AI in accounting?