Accounting vs. bookkeeping vs. artificial intelligence

I read an article that started out with a silly statement “It’s not a reality—yet—but accounting software is poised to eliminate accountants”. The article goes on to discuss the role of bookkeeping software, not the work of accountants. I responded “If you believe that this next generation of software will replace accountants, then I would conclude that you do not understand the fundamental difference between an accountant and a bookkeeper. An accountant focuses on the environment, the system, its controls, the data and its usage by management and third parties. Demand has never been higher for this set of skills. Unfortunately, supply of qualified small business accountants is not meeting demand for these types of skills and those who do simply do not have the time to devote to bookkeeping so this software is a blessing.” I can only presume that the writer is not familiar with the work performed by accountants and the latest results of neurological research. The area of financial and tax planning, my specific focus, is sorely lagging in technology. I often can’t even find a software tool to accurately calculate a single transaction, let alone assimilate that singular data into the complex overall environment that demands a decision. Every experienced planner knows that the human or psychological inputs are more important in financial decision-making than the data and rote calculations. I’m fond of saying that good financial decisions are one part accounting and three parts psychology.

It’s not that I don’t believe that software can eventually emulate human intelligence in the planning and management of any business, it’s just that the software on the horizon is not even remotely close to this. Even the most advanced artificial intelligence researchers say that we are a long way from replacing the skill sets of experienced professionals.

It is possible and even predictable that artificial intelligence will someday replace human intelligence. But I’m sure it won’t happen in the small business market during my working years. In the meanwhile, I think we would all benefit by paying more attention to the neurological distinctions between rote tasks, cognitive planning and management functions, and the evolution of the science of artificial intelligence.


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