Robots

What do you think of when you hear the word robot?  Does the image of the robot (it doesn’t have a name) from Lost in Space come to mind?  How about C3PO, R2D2 and BB8 from the Star Wars films?  Maybe you think of big yellow machines welding pieces together on an assembly line.  Well, that is too narrow a view today.  Just as everything else in the world is going virtual, so are robots.  Robots, called bots for short, are increasingly software programs or applications designed to sift through data or interact with humans in ways not possible until recently.

The interface to these robots may be through a keyboard or voice commands (Amazon Echo or Google Home Mini anyone?), but the one thing they have in common is being able to do something asked of it that might have required a human in the past.  Robots can be ‘dumb’ and only do a repetitive thing over and over; or robots can be smart and learn and improve through artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies.  Either way, in a world where CPAs are increasingly asked to make sense of volumes of data that would take a person years to read, using robotic tools is the only way to provide the business insight being asked of the profession.

Does the world of robots mean our jobs are in jeopardy?  That depends on how you view your job.  If your job is completing a tax form; then yes, your job is in jeopardy.  In fact, you probably already lost your job.  Think of the millions of tax forms electronically filed by software.  The software doesn’t just present forms to fill out, instead the taxpayer is asked questions and the software knows where to put the answers across the myriad of forms needed to file taxes.  Our jobs now are coming up with those questions when the tax law changes or analyzing the answers for ways to provide additional value added services to the taxpayer.

The reality is that our jobs are changing to interact with robots rather than simply be replaced by robots.  Some of us may actually develop the robots.  Others may provide expertise to help the developers make sure the robots are coming up with the right answers. Many, however, will find the use of virtual robots to become as ubiquitous as the use of spreadsheets and pivot tables.  While I don’t think robots are going to replace CPAs in the foreseeable future, robots will change the profession just like 10-keys and computers have done in the past.  I’m excited about the prospects of providing better and deeper insights to business leaders.  I’m eager to apply robots to data to see what frauds can be uncovered.  I’m enthusiastic about the future of CPAs because I know we are willing to change, evolve, and think anew about what our ‘job’ truly is.

 

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