The march of artificial intelligence is seemingly unstoppable. An AI-world is viewed with alarm or excitement depending, I suspect on whether the Terminator movies increase your pulse rate or send you to sleep.
However, one thing all can agree on is that AI will play an ever more important role in our lives, and there will be winners and losers as robots and artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data transform our work.
The debate is now framed around how societies will manage the challenge of directing and investing in technologies to benefit humanity instead of destroying it or making sure that we continue to uphold basic rights of privacy and freedom, that are the foundations for our western way of life.
Computing power will be ubiquitous. We are just getting used to smart homes and the IoT (internet of things) but think about the likelihood that every single item we possess will be equipped with a computing and communications capability.
Much of the current focus has been on likely changes to activities we undertake in our everyday lives, such as transport (autonomous cars and driverless aeroplanes anyone?), and the implications for the workplace, including employment.
Some commentators predict that lawyers, doctors, finance workers and accountants could largely be replaced by AI altogether, perhaps as early as the late 2020s.
In some American courts, judges are beginning to use AI systems to help decide when – and for how long – criminals should be jailed.
To create the AI system, researchers use computers to analyse data from thousands of court cases. The computers then use that data to predict whether a defendant will commit a new crime or fail to return to court. In other parts of the law, for example managing small value accident claims, machines are replacing humans, partly because the cost of using humans to fulfill these tasks is becoming prohibitively high in relation to the compensation awarded.
In 2016, UCL in London developed AI software that weighed up morality to predict verdicts in real life cases. The AI ‘judge’ reached the same verdicts as judges at the European court of human rights in almost four in five cases involving torture, degrading treatment and privacy.
Accountancy is not, to be fair, held up as the most innovative of professions, but like lawyers, accountants are turning to AI and machine learning technologies to deliver bookkeeping services.
Software providers such as Intuit, OneUp, Sage, and Xero offer automated data entry, reconciliations and sometimes more, and, what’s more, clients are able to use the tools themselves.
Research by Forbes magazine concludes that “by 2020, accounting tasks – but also tax, payroll, audits, banking… will be fully automated using AI-based technologies, which will disrupt the accounting industry in a way it never was for the last 500 years, bringing both huge opportunities and serious challenges.”
That’s two years away.