Five questions for the Accounting Singularity
You may have heard of the Singularity — the moment predicted by futurists when the evolution of computers and software reaches a point that a true “artificial intelligence” is created. Beyond that, the futurists say, everything in our world will change so rapidly and so profoundly that predicting it all becomes impossible.
They say this because they have never lived through a singularity; if they had, they’d know that they never happen all at once, and even what seem like the most profound, rapid changes usually play out over periods of time that allow for at least some prediction, as well as some preparation.
Accounting, for instance, is at the beginning of such a singularity — a confluence of technologies that, in a relatively short span, will leave the profession unrecognizable. Fortunately, however, you have some breathing space to adjust, ranging anywhere from a few years up to a decade. Here are a handful of questions to get you started on figuring out your life during and after the Accounting Singularity:
- Why will people pay me? Currently, a huge amount of the value that accountants offer is tied up with compliance work — and more and more, that work will disappear, taken on by intelligent systems. At first they’ll need to be overseen by accountants like you, but eventually, they’ll be autonomous. You’ll need to find other things to charge your clients for, like real-time strategic thinking and forward-looking advice.
- Who will I work with? You’ll work with relatively fewer accountants, and more and more computers and non-accountants. On the one hand, computers will be handling a lot of your entry-level work, including vast amounts of compliance, while at the same time becoming an increasingly indispensable adjunct to the advisory services that will replace all the compliance work you used to do. And on the other hand, you’ll be dealing with more and more issues that require the expertise of data analysts, software coders, engineers, HR specialists, financial planners, industry specialists, economists and others. You can try to train accountants from your staff in all those disciplines — but often it’ll simply be easier to give actual experts in those disciplines enough background in accounting to get them going.
Having answers to these questions won’t fully prepare you for life after the Singularity — given the scale of change, nothing can — but they can help make the transition through it a little less terrifying. See you on the other side!