For many who watch technology and the advancement of various platforms like the blockchain, machine learning, voice controlled software and so forth, it is tempting to believe computers will shortly have the capability to replace people and the work they do. After all, it seems there are so many things computers can do more accurately and faster than humans.
The advent of the blockchain, for example, is rumored to be the last piece of the puzzle of obsolescence that will finally make accountants unnecessary. Now that there will be distributed ledgers and perfectly accurate record-keeping, why would we need an accountant at all?
The truth is the mechanical computer was in rather widespread use among governments in the 1940s and became a central tool of business in the 1960s. That puts fifty years between the availability of programmable adding machines and the present. As of today, there are over 1.2 million accountants and even more bookkeeping and auditing clerks working in the United States.
It would seem that computers alone are not sufficient to replace the accounting profession. At least not yet.
At its core, the blockchain is simply a way to store data records that is distributed among many computers and encrypted so it can’t be tampered with by any of the machines on the network. Because it is essentially un-copyable data, it is suitable for technologies like Bitcoin and other digital currencies.
As a tool for accounting, the blockchain has numerous potential applications, only some of which are currently being explored. It would seem such a technology would make accountants more valuable, not less.
Man and Machine
Because human beings and computers approach subjects like math differently, for many applications, their problem solving is complementary rather than competitive. Computers are fast. Humans are intuitive. Those two strengths combine rather formidably. An accountant, for example, who can make full use of a computer’s potential with a technology like blockchain would likely be in high demand. If they were conversant in the potential for digital currencies, they would have even more options.
Given the fact programmable computers have been in near universal use for the last 25 years, it is unlikely at this point any digital technology will replace humans altogether. It is far more likely the combination of computer and human strengths will prevail in the long run.