The Robots are Not Coming for You: Separating AI Fact from Fiction

  • September 15, 2017

The counter attack against the artificial intelligence (AI) backlash has begun. This is good news for tax executives evaluating how AI and machine learning (a common form of AI) might help improve their function’s performance.

Until recently, many articles on AI’s business applications featured more than a little science fiction. These columns and posts claimed that “the next generation of robots will bring massive unemployment,” as Stanford University Adjunct Professor Jerry Kaplan points out in The Wall Street Journal. The title of Kaplan’s essay offers sound advice: “Don’t Fear the Robots.” The piece pokes holes in the logic of the argument that AI will soon be capable of doing anything that a human can do. “Not by a long shot,” Kaplan asserts, noting that AI is best suited for “finding subtle patterns in very large collections of data, a process that goes by the name of machine learning.”

Like previous waves of automation, machine learning can supplement workforces while making teams of humans more productive, which in turn makes companies more profitable. Machine learning can also help tax functions in a number of ways including:

  • Identifying new opportunities for internal efficiencies;
  • Assessing audit risks;
  • Managing complexity; and
  • Simplifying and improving routine processes.

I examine each of these benefits in more detail in a new article published by Financial Executives International (FEI). When it comes to improving routine processes, a form of machine learning known as robotic process automation (RPA) can automate mundane tasks across several tax-processing functions. These tasks may include the ability to calculate tax and automatically process it though the compliance (tax return process) and treasury (money movement) functions of an enterprise. RPA can augment routine and time-sensitive processes associated with the tax calculation-to-compliance cycle while freeing up time for the tax professional to focus on higher value activities, such as planning.

While the technological advances that drive AI and machine learning may initially sound intimidating, there is no need to fear the robots. Instead, tax executives and other business leaders should ask how this new wave of automation can make their work better.

Please remember that the Tax Matters provides information for educational purposes, not specific tax or legal advice. Always consult a qualified tax or legal advisor before taking any action based on this information.

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