October 28, 2020

Here’s Where We’re at With That Whole ‘Robots Taking Over Your Job’ Thing

For pretty much the entire lifetime of this website — which, by the way, is 11 years come July 20 — the specter of robots automating our core audience out of a job has been a persistent topic. Not as persistent as, say, perverts with CPA at the end of their names or dick-measuring contests between Big 4 firms, but still it’s there, hanging over us like the moldy canvas tent of a modern-day circus sideshow.

For the most part, the conversation about robots taking over your jobs has been left mostly to scared accounting majors cluttering up Reddit with almost daily pleas for clarity on whether or not this is actually happening and the occasional article from outside the industry that miraculously manages to separate “accounting” from “bookkeeping,” the latter being tasks most likely to fall to automation in this first wave of robot takeover. As far as we know, Alexa won’t be replacing hungry first years at inventory counts and team lunches anytime soon. But the bookkeeping revolution has long been underway.

I buried this in Footnotes last week but thought it might deserve its own slot front and center on the site, what with so much prime real estate being taken up by layoffs and pay cuts these days. Rest easy, licensed accounting professionals of the world, a virus may be capable of taking your job, but robots not so much.

Last week, VentureBeat wrote about Botkeeper, a startup that provides “human assisted automated accounting” to take care of the tedious bookkeeping stuff so firms and their clients can focus on more important business-y things. They just raised $25 million in venture funding, bringing their total to $47.5 million, meaning AI is probably doing better than you cash-wise.

Botkeeper says the AI, machine learning, and robotic process automation technologies underpinning its platform have been exposed to millions of financial transactions and evaluate hundreds of variables, enabling them to tackle bookkeeping workloads with precision. They continuously improve over time and provide feedback about atypical transaction activities and exceptions to authorized managers and executives.

Soooo … like interns. But smarter. And just like interns, the AI needs human guides to make sure it gets the coffee order right learns, grows, and provides sufficient value to its carbon-based overlords.

In 2017, research firm Gartner said in a report that by 2020, AI would generate 2.3 million jobs, making up for the fact that it would also eliminate 1.8 million along the way. This is supposed to be the first year AI job creation breaks into positive territory.

“AI has already been applied to highly repeatable tasks where large quantities of observations and decisions can be analyzed for patterns,” said the report. “However, applying AI to less-routine work that is more varied due to lower repeatability will soon start yielding superior benefits. AI applied to nonroutine work is more likely to assist humans than replace them as combinations of humans and machines will perform more effectively than either human experts or AI-driven machines working alone will.”

Meaning at least for now, we’re in pretty much the same place where we were two years ago. Robots are coming but they’re going to need meat mech babysitters. I guess that’s a bit of good news? Barring another global pandemic or some other completely unforeseen disaster, at least you’ll still have a job. Rather, yours won’t be taken by robots anytime soon. One less thing to worry about, eh?

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