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Kevin Philips - Welcome to our workplace, please invade carefully | accountingweb
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Welcome to our workplace, please invade carefully

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With technology changing at a dizzying rate, it can feel like the robots are queueing up, ready to take over. But Kevin Phillips thinks that humans aren’t obsolete just yet.

15th Feb 2023
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Back in 2017 I wrote an article on succession planning in the digital age with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek title: Holy cow, the robots are coming! Fast forward almost six years and it’s easy to argue that the robots walk among us already. For instance, if you’ve listened to a podcast, attended a dinner party or opened LinkedIn you’ll have come across ChatGPT, the AI chatbot that is simultaneously making people clutch at their pearls and claim the end is nigh, or herald it as the greatest thing since the internet itself. 

No slowing down yet

The speed of technological change is astonishing. It’s happening at a breakneck pace that shows no signs of slowing down. In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of cloud computing, the widespread adoption of mobile devices, and the emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning. These advancements are having a profound impact on businesses of all sizes, across all industries. For example, cloud computing has made it possible for businesses to access information and software from anywhere, at any time, while mobile devices have transformed the way employees work and communicate. Artificial intelligence and machine learning, on the other hand, are enabling businesses to automate tasks, make more informed decisions, and gain valuable insights from data. It’s clear that technology is changing the business landscape, and those that embrace it will have a significant advantage over those that don’t.

Technology and accountants 

The pace of technological change in the accounting industry is unprecedented, and it’s having a major impact on the way accountants work. Gone are the days of manual bookkeeping and tedious spreadsheet calculations. Today, accountants are leveraging advanced software and tools to automate tasks, streamline processes, and provide value-added services to their clients. 

For example, cloud-based accounting software is enabling accountants to access and manage financial information from anywhere, at any time, while artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used to automate tedious tasks, such as data entry and reconciliation. Additionally, mobile devices are making it possible for accountants to work on the go and respond to client requests quickly and efficiently. These advancements are changing the game for accountants, and those that embrace technology will have a competitive advantage in an increasingly fast-paced and competitive market.

The bots are not making the grade, yet

It is clear that the point I made in 2017 still holds water. Today, succession planning needs to consider what happens to our people when part (or even most) of their function is taken over by robots. For sure, ChatGPT is still in its infancy. As recently reported, an AI chatbot attempted to take the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales) exam and just missed the mark. The chatbot showed a strong understanding in some areas but struggled with more complex questions. This shows that even though technology and automation are becoming more prevalent in the accounting field, there’s still a long way to go before machines can replace human expertise and judgment completely. 

To be sure, the rate at which new technology matures is also becoming faster. ChatGPT is a far cry from the frustrating customer service chatbots that seem programmed to infuriate. It engages in conversation like a human being, and remembers and learns from earlier parts of the conversation. Already Microsoft, an investor in ChatGPT’s parent company OpenAI, has incorporated ChatGPT into its search engine Bing, and the underlying technology into the latest versions of Teams. 

Garbage in, garbage out

But that doesn’t mean that humans are obsolete yet. The principle of garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) applies more than ever today. Take ChatGPT: its responses are only as good as the prompts you give it, so without expertise and the ability to clearly outline a requirement, your results are going to be vanilla at best, and broken and possibly harmful at worst. As one of our developers says, it can make a mediocre developer quite good, a good developer excellent, and an excellent developer a rock star. But it can’t make a mediocre developer a rockstar.

Plus, each industry has a specific set of requirements, regulations and laws to comply with. In our case, we need to think very carefully about ethics, transparency and responsibility for mistakes. 

Co-existence

Smart humans are going to figure out how to co-exist with robots, and be very clear on what each party brings to the relationship. To do this, we’ll need to hone a bunch of new skills, and do some deep thinking about what we do, how we do it and how we then train our software co-workers. As Tom Herbert described the ChatGPT taking an accountant’s exam: “It’s like having a fresh-faced junior who’s always convinced they’re right, so users need to approach it with a degree of caution.” 

Can you spot the bot?

One thing we can be sure of is that as accountants we need to keep on top of changes in tech. New tools and capabilities are emerging all the time. For sure, they’ll be immature and a bit clunky at first, and often need other innovators to build an ecosystem around them to be really useful, but they will get better, faster, and more indispensable. 

ChatGPT is one of those tools: three and a half paragraphs in this article were written by the bot. But can you tell which ones they are?

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By Hugo Fair
15th Feb 2023 17:56

"three and a half paragraphs in this article were written by the bot. But can you tell which ones they are?"

No idea what 1/2 a paragraph looks like (the concept being a bit like being half-pregnant), but either the sections headed "No slowing down yet" and "Technology and accountants" were written by a bot or your command of English has dramatically degraded!

Which is the only possible excuse for the false trope "cloud computing has made it possible for businesses to access information and software from anywhere, at any time" ... since all those were available before the arrival of the Cloud label (and remain so without recourse to Cloud apps).

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By IanPay
16th Feb 2023 10:30

I'm not sure which parts of the article were written by ChatGPT but I can tell you this, there's a mistake in it - the bot was given an ACA paper, not an ACCA paper. Small but crucial difference!

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