In May, the government announced the formation of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Council – an independent expert committee made up of leaders from business and academia – to help boost the growth of AI in the UK.  It is likely that AI will transform many areas of life and business in ways that we cannot yet imagine, so what does this mean for the accountancy profession?  Are the robots coming to take over?

Put simply, AI is about the creation of intelligent machines that use machine learning to mimic human intelligence.  The use of AI is already integral in our everyday lives.  Siri, Alexa, Amazon and Netflix are all well-known names using machine learning, predictive technology and speech recognition.  AI offers the potential for significant efficiency gain across almost every sector, automating and freeing us from the more mundane tasks.

Within accounting practices, AI is quietly picking up an increasing number of back-office processing tasks across audit, payroll, tax, and banking.  The sector is also starting to see AI appear at the front end of client encounters with virtual assistants (‘chatbots’) being built into accounting packages, for example.

Where does that leave human input?  The experts say that AI will free professionals to spend more time on more complicated processes and those that add the most value – those areas that require the uniquely human skills of intuitive decision-making based on expert knowledge.

While it is impossible to predict the extent to which computers will eventually replace job roles over the next 20 to 30 years, what is clear is the need for accounting professionals to have both the skills to understand and work with the technology, as well as the ability to adapt and be flexible – to take advantage of the new roles that are likely to be created and to further develop their ‘soft skills’ of critical thinking, empathy, intuition and creativity.