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Artificial Intelligence

3 ways accountants can help with AI and technology

From dealing with the fear of automation to teaching the use of new tools, CPAs are well-positioned to bridge the gap between business and technical sides, futurist Jesse Hirsh says

portrait of Jesse HirshJesse Hirsh will be speaking at this year’s National Technology Forum, which takes place May 22-23 in Toronto (Image provided)

Accountants are well-positioned to bridge the gap between the business and technical sides of artificial intelligence and machine learning, says Jesse Hirsh, keynote speaker at this year’s National Technology Forum.

“On a base level, it’s really looking at AI and the way in which AI is transforming every sector, in particular accounting,” the futurist, researcher and internet strategist says. “But because accountants tend to be engaged in every sector, it’s a great opportunity for accountants to elevate their profession. Part of that is expanding the leadership CPAs already offer.”


Hirsh says the expertise accountants offer in helping their clients adapt and take advantage of emerging opportunities can be put to use in the following ways:

  • Translating the language of data scientists into the language of business; 
  • Teaching the use of the new tools; 
  • Helping deal with what Hirsh calls the “dark side”: people’s fear of automation, as well as the ways in which automation can be used as a control system or for surveillance.


AI can be wrong—it can make mistakes and be sexist, racist or discriminatory—which is why the human touch will always be necessary, Hirsh says.

“There really does need to be human oversight, there really does need to be responsible humans who are able to provide the checks and balances on the system,” he says, adding: “I think for accountants, given the ethical, responsible role that they’ve played in businesses and institutions, that it’s natural to extend that responsibility into the world of AI.” 

Accountants can also help with understanding the big picture and how to move forward, says Hirsh.

“They’ll have the critical distance that the hardcore data scientist won’t,” he says. “They’ll have the kind of oversight and big picture that accountants generally have when it comes to auditing and looking at books, but then [they can] apply that to data sets and…automation in a way that I argue will be necessary and really quite needed when it comes to mitigating against some of the harms and some of the liability that come with adopting these types of machine-learning systems.” 


Contrary to the science-fiction mythology, AI will not come alive or be conscious, Hirsh says. Instead, according to Hirsh, AI will always be “stupid,” although it is capable of processing huge volumes of data and teasing out insights that humans can’t easily see. This means machines will do the boring stuff, leaving humans free to do the creative and critical thinking. 

But machine learning will also demand accelerated human learning, or lifelong learning, says Hirsh, which is an area in which accountants, with their commitment to professional development and continuing education, can shine. Accountants already have the math skills and numeric literacy that would allow them to be AI specialists as an extension to their profession, he says. This will allow them to cross silos and become the kind of people who can see the big picture and act accordingly.

“If they embrace this notion of lifelong learning, it means that accounting can transform into something much greater and much more powerful than what it already is,” Hirsh said. “Which is quite essential to how businesses operate.”


Jesse Hirsh will be speaking at this year’s National Technology Forum, which takes place May 22-23 in Toronto. The forum features sessions on the latest tech solutions, interactive roundtables, panels and workshops.

You could also read the CPA Canada publications A CPA’s Introduction to AI: From algorithms to deep learning, what you need to know and Big data and artificial intelligence – the future of accounting and finance to understand the buzzwords around AI and how this technology might impact your work.