WCOA 2018: Ayesha Khanna - WCOA Sydney 2018 | The Best Accounting Conference

International Convention Centre, Sydney Australia  |  5-8 November 2018

The upside of the AI revolution

Technology expert Dr Ayesha Khanna has good news for accountants fearful for their livelihoods, writes Alexandra Turner-Cohen.

WCOA 2018: Ayesha Khanna

Accountants shouldn’t be worried about losing their jobs to robots, says internationally renowned artificial intelligence (AI) expert Dr Ayesha Khanna.

Khanna, who delivered the day three morning keynote at WCOA, discussed how AI would revolutionise entire professions. While 94 per cent of accountants will likely lose their traditional jobs to AI, she believed this would provide opportunities for new growth in the industry.

“The purpose of AI is to amplify human potential,” Khanna said. “If we use AI, we can start moving towards our own self-fulfilment.”

The most immediate change is automation will replace menial tasks. “You can happily leave administration, overtime and routine work to AI,” she said. “Nobody wants to argue that is a good use of a human being’s time.”

JP Morgan AI software already achieves in seconds what took lawyers 360,000 hours to do. However, Khanna doesn’t see this as a cause to worry. AI will never replace the “judgment work’ accountants do, she said.

“Judgment work is knowing your organisation’s strategy, understanding your client’s culture, having an approach in mind for your clients that is good for their long-term financial health. AI cannot do that.”

She added: “I could walk into your firm tomorrow and I won’t achieve much at all, even if I bring with me 30 professors of AI, because we don’t understand your industry, we don’t understand your clients, we don’t understand your problems, we don’t understand your vision.

“We need to work with you, but at the same time you need to learn to work with us.”

New jobs will also open up for accountants, she said. “You’ll see opportunity everywhere. There is no better time to be in the workforce than now.”

Accountants need to learn to work better with AI and explain what it can do for clients, she said. “People are forcing many companies that use AI to explain what it’s doing, to empower business users and business employees,” she said. “People have to watch over how AI systems are designed.”

She cited a case where AI was used as a recruitment agent and mainly hired men over women who were equally qualified. After further investigation, it was discovered the AI’s algorithm was biased. That was because the data derived from the HR department was biased.

“Partner with AI,” Khanna said. “Take the first step. Be bold. Start knowing what is happening to your industry so you can be ahead of the curve. Ride the wave and enjoy the beach.”

WCOA 2018: Ayesha Khanna
Moderator Holly Ransom on stage with Dr Ayesha Khanna

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