Last month, I stumbled upon a website called “Will Robots Take My Job?” The website sources it’s data from a 2013 report titled “The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization?” (Benedikt Frey & Michael Osborne)
Using the website is pretty straightforward; enter your job or industry, and you receive an “automation risk level” for how likely your job could be replaced by a robot.
So when I entered “Accountant”, this is the result that came back:
It should be noted that this the first time a job search engine has ever told me that I was “doomed” in my choice of career. Take that, Indeed.com.
As I pondered over my career’s “impending doom” with my afternoon cup of coffee, I perused the web for articles dealing with Accounting & Automation. There are A LOT. And with good reason – with the advent of chatbots, cloud based services, and “machine-learning” software, much of the data entry aspects of accounting can be automated.
I am a huge fan of automation. I still want to keep my job, but mindlessly entering numbers on spreadsheets was not why I got into this field. Furthermore, there is compelling evidence that businesses that adapt to changing technologies have a higher success rate. A large portion of my daily work involves beta testing new software and researching ways to automate processes.
But could a robot completely phase me out? That’s a loaded question. I think humans still have a chance to stem the tide of the Robot Takeover. Here’s why:
Robots Inform but they Cannot Innovate
One of the advantages of automation is gathering and summarizing a huge amount of data in a short period of time. When you’re trying to build a successful business, information is a valuable asset.
As intuitive as robots are, they only function within the parameters given. As a result, they can be really narrow-minded. Comedic accountant and blogger Greg Kyte said it best in a recent blog post, A Robot Will Take Your Job: 8 Things Accountants (or Anybody) Can Do to Keep a Job in the Age of Automation,“Robots are fantastic at finding solutions, but robots suck at finding the right problem”. You still need humans to interpret the data, identify the problem, then come up with a creative solution to fix it.
Robots Forecast but they are not Visionaries
Several of the strong reporting tools on the market today not only analyze actual data but also have tools to forecast based on certain variables. These can serve a useful purpose. If you create benchmarks, it can be easier to set goals and track if you are achieving them.
However, a robot cannot motivate a group of humans to a reach a goal or care about benchmarks. I don’t know about you, but when was the last time you heard IBM Watson give a pep talk? The direction, the core mission of a business, is predicated on having the right humans in leadership positions. Businesses do best with leaders that are passionate, adaptive, and are willing to take chances. Robots don’t take chances (They have that whole self-preservation “thing”).
Humans want to talk to other Humans, not Robots.
Any person that has ever watched a sci-fi movie or read any Issac Asimov novel is familiar with this premise: Humans build robot. Robot tries to become human. Humans destroy robot. The point? People think robots that act like people are creepy. I don’t mind having my tech-support questions answered by a chat-bot. I would not take that chat-bot out to a coffee date at Starbucks.
Last month Kevin O’Leary from the investor show Shark Tank made this comment during an interview at a recent AICPA ENGAGE Conference: “Half the work the CPA does is to deal with people, to have relationships with people, and to decide how to work with their desires, their direction, and their vision for their business. That is never going to be replaced by a machine.” Humans place more trust in other humans when it comes to advice for their business. Accounting will still involve a level of empathy and trust between individuals. Accounting firms that leverage this knowledge will still be in business even after the Robot Takeover.
Is my job “doomed”? Parts of it maybe; the parts I dislike. The aspects of the job that I do enjoy: building relationships with clients, working with them to achieve a vision, and telling the story of their business through financial reports; those parts of the job will stick around. I don’t want to destroy the robot. I want to make it work for ME.