The age of the machines

accapr —  13 January 2014 — Leave a comment


By Faye Chua, head of futures research, ACCA

ACCA’s latest report Digital Darwinism: thriving in the face of technology change, focuses on 10 technology trends with the potential to reshape the profession and business landscape significantly. One of the trends identified was the rise in Artificial Intelligence and robotics.

As robotics has become more cost-effective, its use has become commonplace in industries ranging from manufacturing, through medicine to structural engineering. On the other hand, AI pushes the boundaries even further by transforming software and business processes across many different industries. It is enhancing developments in areas such as facial recognition and changing approaches to the security of systems and processes. Interactive Web robots, known as ‘bots’, have become the public face of AI and robotics, giving advice, customer service, information and support in areas including financial services, retail, and utilities.

As software and hardware become smarter and more ‘intelligence’ is built into them, they are complementing and replacing human activities and decision-making processes. By exploiting existing AI and robotics technologies and exploring the emerging possibilities, businesses can benefit by:

  • automating routine, repetitive and labour-intensive tasks and processes
  • reducing operating costs and increasing efficiency
  • providing 24/7 service via myriad fixed and mobile devices
  • developing innovative new products and services
  • ensuring that products and services meet customer needs
  • scaling up operations with fewer and cheaper resources, and
  • extracting more value from existing investments in technology.

The achievements of AI supercomputers such as IBM Watson attract understandable publicity. IBM Watson uses Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) to understand human speech, make sense of huge amounts of complex information, rank answers based on probability, and learn from its mistakes. The application of AI and robotics is also spreading in industry. The Chilean state copper giant Corporacion Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco) uses AI and advanced knowledge-extraction techniques to generate potential targets for exploration and to automate many mining processes.

Accountants and finance professionals increasingly rely on the expert knowledge built into software to work efficiently and effectively in a range of scenarios – particularly in rule-based areas such as compliance. Smart software is being used to ensure the consistency of audit-related processes and their compliance with International Auditing Standards; software for applying eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) tags to financial information, and learns from the decisions made by its users. In the US an intelligent system based on AI, negotiation techniques and argumentation theory is being used to check whether supplier selection processes comply with the Sarbanes–Oxley Act.

In the recent ACCA/IMA survey, 24% of respondents predict the widespread adoption in accountancy of AI, expert systems and robotics within the next two years. Such adoption has the potential to transform the profession.

Read more about the technology trends that are impacting on the accounting profession at


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