An AI Beats 20 Top Lawyers—Can Accountants Be Next?

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Nov 9, 2018
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Humanity has lost yet one more battle of man versus machine, this time in the field of legal analysis, as a team of 20 top-rated lawyers failed to defeat an artificial intelligence in finding flaws in five different nondisclosure agreements, according to Inc. The humans, to be fair, did perform valiantly: They scored an average accuracy rate of 85 percent over about 92 minutes. However, by contrast, the machine achieved a 94 percent accuracy rate over the course of just 26 seconds. The computer was the undisputed winner. 

One may wonder how human accountants would stack up against their digital counterparts today. At the Foundation for Accounting Education's Auditing Standards Conference yesterday, a pair of speakers noted that AI is already transforming how people do audits. Auditors today use AI to capture not just structured data such as spreadsheets but unstructured data such as memos. In this way, AI is already being employed to help implement the Financial Accounting Standards Board's new lease standard. Firms will need to evaluate a lot of leases—scan those agreements and extract key terms—and one of the speakers said that there is already software that can do it. 

While developments like these often come with dire portends about the robot takeover of the economy, the lawyers who lost the contest were rather sanguine about the matter, according to Inc, saying that they were excited about how AI can supplement their own work. The speakers at yesterday's Auditing Standards Conference were similarly untroubled by the implications to their profession, saying that AI will change, but not eliminate, auditors: With computers taking on more of the drudge work, this will supposedly free auditors to become more specialized professionals, like highly paid brain surgeons. This was also the view of many industry experts interviewed for a three-part Trusted Professional series about the impact of disruptive technologies on the profession, though some conceded that it would have an impact on how many auditors an engagement needs in the first place. The second part of the series is available here, and the third part is available here.

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