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Automation challenges for accountants
Automation challenges for accountants

Experts grapple with challenges of AI

28th Jun 2017
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As artificial intelligence continues its rapid march across the accounting landscape, Sage and the ICAEW IT Faculty have turned their attention to the professional implications.

Sage made the most dramatic move in this area by announcing a new AI code of ethics at the Sage Summit on Tuesday. Sage is already supporting “tens of thousands of users” on its AI chatbot Pegg and is keen to position itself as a market leader by setting out a framework that it thinks other developers should follow.

Sage’s five principles of AI

Sage’s code is a two-page document based around five simple principles:

1. AI should reflect the diversity of the users it serves, for example by developing mechanisms to filter our biases that may perpetuate stereotypes.

2. AI and its users must be held accountable. This point raises one of the more interesting issues around AI - trust. After just a few interactions, users develop trust in AI mechanisms. But with trust comes responsibility, Sage argues, and AI needs to be held accountable for its actions and decisions and should not be allowed to become too clever to be accountable. “We don't accept this kind of behaviour from other 'expert' professions, so why should technology be the exception?” the code states.

3. Reward AI for 'showing its workings' AI tools need to be programmes so they can demonstrate how they align with human values to accomplish a particular result.

4. AI should level the playing field by extending business technology to new users.

5. AI will replace, but it must also create. When AI is used for repetitive tasks such as accounting -- it can reduce admin and provide an excellent user experience, Sage VP Kriti Sharma explained. As automation takes over tasks previously done by humans, new roles will need to be found for them to focus on what they are good at, such as building relationships and caring for customers.

The ICAEW technology faculty, too, is keen to establish its credentials in this area and will host a webinar for members on Friday 30 June to introduce its latest report on the subject.

The discussion is currently framed by the two contrasting responses to AI. On the one hand, proponents see it as a means for accountants to provide more insight and move up the value chain. But the pessimists fear that the speed and accuracy of AI will supersede that of human accountants and lead to the profession’s long-term demise. Alongside its new report, the IT faculty will host an online Q&A session with Rice University professor Moshe Vardi on Friday afternoon (30 June).

The AI: What does it mean for the accountancy profession? webinar is open to institute members and takes place at 15:30 on Friday 30 June.

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