After years of hearing about the promise of artificial intelligence, has it finally crossed the threshold of being a viable technology we can confidently use?
The release of ChatGPT by OpenAI in late-2022 has created tremendous buzz around generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI), a specific type of AI, and made it accessible to the masses. Using natural language, anyone can begin engaging with AI to generate ideas, outlines, email responses, and much more.
Gen AI and AI in general can be used in any aspect of our lives, and there are a growing number of examples of how tax & accounting are using these technologies to save time and drive innovation. Of course, there are still considerations to take into account regarding privacy, security, and accuracy, all of which have hampered firms from fully embracing the technology.
Gartner releases an annual report, Hype Cycle for Emerging Technology, whose purpose is to create awareness of emerging technologies that have the potential to disrupt and impact businesses and society in the next two to ten years. Now, Gartner also has published Hype Cycle for Artificial Intelligence 2023, describing an AI-specific hype cycle that — like other hype cycles — contains five distinct phases:
- innovation trigger;
- peak of inflated expectations;
- trough of disillusionment;
- slope of enlightenment; and
- plateau of productivity.
In 2020, Gartner added Gen AI to the hype cycle, and this year, Gen AI was plotted at the peak of inflated expectations which, according to Gartner, means there is “more hype than proof that the innovation can deliver what you need.” In this phase, many early adopters begin exploring opportunities for use cases. Yet, we are seeing a wide variety of people at all skill levels, ages, and professions experimenting with Gen AI. And looking at the tax & accounting profession, there are many who see opportunities to save time using it.
Indeed, it may be especially helpful to tax & accounting professionals to leverage Gen AI as an additional research assistant, as the latest updates to ChatGPT can now allow users to work with images, charts, and more, incorporating data from these items into reports, presentations, outlines, or whatever the requested output was.
Gen AI use cases emerge in tax & accounting
Practitioners are using Gen AI to compose email responses to clients and colleagues and have accelerated their ability to create macros in Excel by asking ChatGPT for the formula to insert those into spreadsheets. And for those building presentations, writing articles and blogs, they are using ChatGPT and other tools like it to save time by giving them a starting point or a leg up in their research and preparation.
Gen AI still has a way to go in increasing the accuracy and relevancy of the responses generated, but those are improving every day. In fact, at the start of a ChatGPT session, the tool reminds users that accuracy needs to be verified. Tax & accounting firms need to set expectations with staff that the responses generated need to be proofread and the data verified. Yet, even though the ChatGPT responses cannot be used as is, it is still a big time saver.
Further, better guidance on privacy, confidentiality, and mitigating risk around Gen AI are becoming more available. CPA.com, the subsidiary of the American Institute of CPAs, released Toolkit: Building Your AI Strategy in October 2023 that covers areas for consideration in using Gen AI tools in tax & accounting firms.
Although heavy attention is on Gen AI right now, Gartner’s AI-specific hype cycle report shows there are multiple AI technologies climbing the slope of enlightenment and approaching the plateau of productivity. In fact, on the slope of enlightenment early adopters begin seeing benefits of the technology encouraging additional companies to start learning how to adapt the tool to their organization.
One AI technology on this slope is Cloud AI Services. This is where cloud service providers make AI tools available to more people rather than each organization having to task their own engineers. It is as though users can rent access. As cloud has done for years, Cloud AI Services are democratizing access to this emerging, high-powered technology.
Whether AI is past the hype and a fully viable product is not a clearcut yes or no answer. AI has so many segments to the technology, the questions need to be refined. It is time for every tax & accounting firm to begin looking at their AI options — which are growing in the applications they are already using — and develop their strategy.
The use of AI at this point is a competitive advantage to attract talent and serve clients in the tax industry. Firms of all sizes should look into the security considerations and prioritize an early use case opportunity — and then begin.