Each January, we attend the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to identify and better understand the next evolutions in consumer information technology that could one day impact accountants and clients. 2018 CES was exceptional as major companies announced significant shifts in their production and market strategy and “buzztechs,” such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Voice Assistance, Autonomous Retail, and 5G were showcased in multiple product line ups and mashed up in surprising ways. While most of the products announced will first land outside of the accounting environment, it is important for accountants to understand these trends as they could be soon impacting how they advise their clients as well as one day be integrated into their own practices.

Keynote Trends

Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich in the opening CES keynote, stressed that Intel is transitioning from being a chip manufacturer to becoming a “data-centric” company,” focusing on developing tools to assist with Artificial Intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, and taking advantage of the next generation “5G” communications architecture. The following day Jim Hackett, Ford’s CEO stated that the car manufacturing company would be transitioning to a “solutions company using, data software, and AI to redefine civic life.” In other words, Ford wants to develop the “Transportation Operating System” for cities, which will take advantage of the lightning fast 5G communications infrastructure connecting all people and vehicles to the data grid that manages not only autonomous autos, but the urban environment and people interacting around them.

The final keynote we attended focused on how 5G would “Enable the Future” from the perspective of Hans Vestberg (Verizon CTO), Cristiano Amon (Qualcomm EVP) and Dr. Qi Lu (Baidu COO). All three leaders touted how the intersection of 5G connectivity, Artificial Intelligence and autonomous vehicles are poised to create and analyze exponential amounts of data which will usher in a new era of information management and financial analysis.

Accounting Impact: 5G and AI will foster the most significant growth of data and information than any other time in history, which accountants are uniquely suited to manage, verify, interpret and direct solutions for clients.

5G Wireless

5G digital cellular connectivity will allow for movement and processing of information at ludicrous speeds, opening the path for adoption of Artificial Intelligence and real-time computing within the next two years. Most accountants can remember the transition from the first-generation analog cellular “car phones” to the second-generation digital phones, followed by the third generation (3G) that made data transfer viable, and finally to 4G which allowed for the transition to today’s “smartphones” that have nearly all the capabilities of a personal computer. Each generation evolved significantly faster than the previous and geometrically expanded capabilities, which is proving to be even more true with the 5G wireless architecture. 5G will be as much as 1,000 times faster than current 4G systems, be more secure, and reduce latency (delays) to less than 1ms, which is necessary for real-time interactions and response. 5G capabilities will be highlighted during the upcoming PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games and will be available in some US cities this year, with most of the country having coverage by 2020 (and utilizing the legacy 4G system everywhere else as 3G is doing today).

Accountant Impact: Faster, more robust and reliable 5G connectivity will push all applications and data into the cloud moving accountants towards anytime access via mobile devices securely connected to data resources wirelessly.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI was the most cited buzzword at CES and discussed at some point in every session we attended whether discussing retail, automotive, healthcare, home automation, or blockchain topics. AI is the catch-all phrase describing the ability of computers to be programmed to make “human-like” decisions by learning from previous successful processes to repeat good responses while minimizing less desirable outcomes or avoiding mistakes. Whether directing an autonomous vehicle to avoid an accident, a washing machine to evaluate how dirty a batch of clothes are, or asking your TV to turn on local weather, you are using a variety of applications categorized under the AI banner. Today’s cloud computing horsepower combined with accelerating Internet connectivity speeds are moving AI applications from the lab to the consumer and creating new businesses and middleware applications, which accountant’s will utilize to help clients manage their organizations more effectively.

Accountant Impact: We can expect middleware AI applications to be integrated into current accounting applications and process such as Thomson Reuters’ partnership with MindBridge to bring AI data analytics to their audit suite.

Voice Assistance

By now, virtually everyone has “asked” Siri, Google, Cortana, or Alexa a question on their smartphone, computer or home speaker device. This year’s CES pointed out that these voice assistance tools are now mainstream with thousands of new products and appliances connecting to at least one of these services and many capable of choosing between two or more including the ones listed above and other players such as Bixby and Roku. While we saw Amazon’s Alexa take the early voice assist lead last year with their Echo product line and easy tools to allow end users to program new voice command skills, Google’s Assistant was far more prevalent at this year’s CES and may take the lead when integrated into Google’s search capabilities that most people are accustomed to using.

Accountant Impact: The ability to use a voice assistant to direct your car around bad traffic when you go to the office, turn on the lights when you arrive, adjust the thermostat, brew your coffee, and turn on your computer showing today’s schedule is a reality today and will become more prevalent in the year ahead.

Autonomous Retail

The most repeated “bleeding edge” concept we identified at 2018 CES was autonomous retail featured during the sessions we attended for Toyota, Ford, Honda, Baidu, and Local Motors. Each of these companies displayed autonomous vehicles that were not only configured for moving people around cities (think about combining shared Uber and a bus system), but could be repurposed (including digital external signage) throughout the day to be used for delivery (pizza, dry cleaning, prescriptions) depending on demand. Toyota’s e-Palette won CES Best of show for its multi-purpose autonomous vehicle but was not alone as Ford’s Chariot, Local Motors Ollie, and RoboMart featured variations of the same theme “to bring the shopping to you.” Imagine autonomous food trucks, produce delivery services, office supplies and even niche products such as running shoes coming to you on your schedule.

Accountant Impact: Logistics and remote mobile inventory systems will present huge opportunities for accountants to evaluate and implement autonomous retail solutions for clients.

Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates was famously quoted as saying “we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” That quote is apropos to the technology concepts covered during this year’s CES which may seem like science fiction, but are already happening today.

 

This article was originally published in The PPC Accounting and Auditing Update. Copying or distribution without the publisher’s permission is prohibited.

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