If you’re in the accounting profession, chances are you’ve heard that artificial intelligence (AI) will impact your job in fantastic and scary ways. Across the profession, firms recognize the importance of leveraging technology to increase efficiency and reduce human error. However, for every positive headline about AI in the news, there are usually several negative ones warning of potential job loss. For that reason, firm leaders need to consider their mindset regarding AI and how they communicate that mindset with their teams.
Disruptive vs. emerging
One of the most common blanket terms used for AI, machine learning, robotic process automation and other technologies is “disruptive technology.”
The word disruption can have two meanings:
To throw into turmoil or disorder
To break or split apart
With those options, it’s not hard to see why the term disruptive has a negative connotation.
I prefer the term “emerging technology.” Emerging technology can be used to describe new technologies, but it can also refer to the continuing development of existing technologies. When you talk to your team about AI, referring to it as an emerging technology takes a more positive view, and rightly so. AI will create more opportunities than the headlines give you.
Artificial vs. augmented
AI will play a complementary role for many workers. It will make them faster and more productive. That’s why I prefer to think of AI as less about “artificial” intelligence and more about augmented intelligence.
Tech Target defines augmented intelligence as “an alternative conceptualization of artificial intelligence that focuses on AI’s assistive role, emphasizing the fact that cognitive technology is designed to enhance human intelligence rather than replace it.”
Augmented intelligence isn’t about removing humans from the decision-making equation. Instead, it focuses on providing humans with more and better information on which to base their decisions. Instead of wasting time entering or sifting through massive amounts of data and struggling to stay up-to-speed with ever-changing legislation and accounting standards, your team will have more bandwidth for higher-level, strategic thinking.
Future vs. now
Futuristic movies may have instilled audiences with a sense of dread at the thought of AI turning against humans, but chances are, you’re already using AI in your home.
If you use Google Photos, the app already uses its vast database of images to recognize features such as sunsets, mountains or faces in your photos, making searching for a particular photo a snap. Netflix and Spotify scan not just what you’ve liked in the past but what other users like you enjoy to deliver personalized recommendations. When we talk about AI, it’s essential to talk about how augmented intelligence impacts us now—not just in a vague futuristic way.
According to research from McKinsey, up to 45% of the tasks individuals are paid to perform can be automated using currently available technologies. This isn’t just low-skill, low-wage roles but even some of the highest-paid occupations in the economy, including financial managers, physicians and CEOs. The benefits of automating these tasks range from increased output to higher quality and improved reliability. McKinsey estimates those benefits are worth three to ten times the cost. Thus augmentation is a competitive differentiator right now.
Changing how we think and talk about AI may seem like splitting hairs to some, but embracing AI is about adopting a more positive mindset. We must look deeper than the headlines and consider how this emerging technology will augment rather than disrupt what we do.
When discussing the future of the profession with your team, don’t react with fear. Instead, embrace the many opportunities AI will bring as more and more members of our profession—and our clients—adopt it. The real power of AI doesn’t lie in its ability to eliminate jobs but in its ability to free up time and resources. The accounting profession of the future is going to be far more efficient and strategic as a result of AI. If we can learn to see AI for what it is—a form of augmented intelligence impacting our lives in positive ways now and will continue to do so in the future—then your teams will more readily adopt the technology. The sooner we leverage AI, the smoother sailing it will be for everybody.
Marc Staut, Shareholder and Chief Innovation & Information Officer at Boomer Consulting, Inc., helps meet the growing needs of CPA firms by leveraging his experience to provide strategic technology assessments, planning, visioning and coaching. He feels that “technology should be an enabler – something that’s approachable, aligned with and integral to the success of each firm.” Marc is a regular speaker, author and panelist on technology in the accounting profession, cloud computing, mobile technology, leadership and vision.