Platt’s Perspective: Ready Or Not: The Future Is Here!

Mike Platt

Mike Platt

The future is here whether we are ready or not. I was in Las Vegas last month presenting at and attending an international association conference, which happened to be at the same hotel where IBM was hosting its World of Watson convention with more than 15,000 attendees.

Like many, my introduction to Watson was in 2011 when Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings famously played the computer and lost. And, like most outside the tech world, I hadn’t heard much about Watson since then. I walked down to the convention center to see what I could see, and came away from that experience with a jaw-dropping “WOW!”

Cognitive learning, augmented intelligence – whatever you want to call it – is signaling an epic shift in how humans interact. One World of Watson exhibit featured a new app for the insurance profession that aims to streamline the auto claims process by 80%. Tapping into Watson’s capabilities, a photo of the damage and a scan of an accident report starts the process of scheduling repairs and estimating damage. The programming for this app began the end of August, and within eight weeks it was ready for display.

Watson has already infiltrated the professional services world. Earlier this year, two developments will affect the way professionals conduct business in the future. In the legal world, BakerHostetler hired a “robotic legal researcher” named ROSS – built on the IBM Watson platform – to work with the firm’s bankruptcy team, scouring through thousands of precedents and articles to prepare for cases.

ROSS started out as a research project at the University of Toronto in 2014. The project goal was to build a legal research assistant to help scale the capabilities of lawyers through the use of artificial intelligence. From the start, it took ROSS 10 months to learn the entire body of bankruptcy law.

In the accounting world, KPMG announced plans to apply Watson’s cognitive computing technology to its professional services offerings. The March 8 press release touts: “Many of KPMG’s audit, tax, advisory and other professional services rely heavily on judgment-driven processes. Adding cognitive technology’s massive data analysis and innovative learning capabilities to these activities has the potential to advance traditional views on how talent, time, capital and other resources are deployed by professional services organizations.”

Technological transformations are coming at a rapid and accelerating pace. Some firms are now using drones for inventory observation. North Carolina State University is experimenting with virtual reality in its accounting classes. Blockchain technology, which underpins crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, provides an instantaneous verification of transactions, assuring that the accuracy of the transaction can be trusted and verified. Hmmm, does that sound like an auditor’s job?

In talking about the many disruptive technologies that are coming online daily, Barry Melancon, president of the AICPA, told Council members gathered in Orlando in October, “Who are we to think that these rapid changes in technology are going to somehow sidestep our profession?” What was my takeaway from the designs, experiments and applications on display at The World of Watson? Simply this: “Ready or not, here it comes.”