Artificial intelligence has the potential to be a true game-changer for the professional services industry. It has two main purposes, which are to use the power of computers to augment human thinking, and to use a computer’s power to understand how humans think. Testing programmes for how they can solve problems is essence, cognitive science; using AI to understand the human mind. AI is rapidly being adopted across a number of different sectors and applications. A number of so-called disruptive technologies already make use of AI features, including personal assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, autonomous vehicles and software that can analyse huge quantities of data in very short time frames. Amazon’s smart voice assistant Alexa has already transformed the the ways that people engage with technology in their homes while a range of other smart devices and gadgets are allowing people to control their household functions. Audit and consulting firms are currently heavily investing in research and developments in machine learning, data mining, Block chain and cognitive and quantum computing. Another exciting development is IBM Watson Analytics. Watson has made a name for itself in the self-service business intelligence (BI), and is backed up on a technical level with a highly advanced analytics engine and a stellar natural language querying platform that makes BI easy-to-learn and powerful. The machine learning and AI behind it are hugely impressive accomplishment and features access to 200 million pages of structured and unstructured information, built-in 750 servers, and can answer queries in a fraction of a second. Although artificial intelligence has undoubted potential, it has also inevitably raised concerns among employees across the world that it could threaten their jobs. Some of the most significant worries among employees are that they could be replaced in the value chain, and that AI could execute their roles faster, and with more accuracy. The overriding concern is that human judgement – which is often just a substitute for lack of data – could be superseded by powerful computers that have access to new sources of data.
AI in accountancy
Naturally, a whole host of questions are being asked about what AI will mean for the future of jobs, and the accountancy profession specifically:
- How can we define our long-term vision for AI and accountancy?
We need to envision how intelligent systems can enable better decisions in business and understand how accountants can help this process.
- How do artificial and human intelligence work together?
We need to develop an understanding of what is new about the technology, how it can ‘turbo-charge’ the capabilities of humans.
- How are accountants using AI?
We need to explore real-world examples of accountants using AI systems, including their specific benefits and limitations, to help us develop a longer-term vision.
The growth and developments of audit and assurance services are now highly dependent on AI. A range of points need to be considered by practicing professionals in order to develop future strategy:
- How AI will change the way talent is recruited
- The broader range of disciplines for practising
- Block chain and machine learning capabilities
- Awareness and understanding of disruptive technologies
- Reducing risk and enhancing confidence
- Change management and avoiding potential confusion
However, in spite of the ways that humans can prepare for the changes brought about by AI, many questions will remain inevitably remain unresolved. How will AI handle skepticism, judgement, leadership, empathy and creativity? Only time will tell.
The clear and present future.
Practicing professionals, including auditors, consultants, accountants and tax practitioners need to start accepting that, sooner or later, these changes will happen. They need to use this acceptance to revise their existing strategies and start to work with:
- Educators and training providers, who are considering the future skills of accountants
- Regulators, who are considering the risks attached to new technologies
- Governments and policymakers
- Computer scientists and machine learning experts who understand the strengths and limits of AI
- Software providers who are developing solutions for accounting problems using AI.
– Sumesh Krishna
Partner, HLB Hamt