Technology’s ethical challenge

 CIMA President Paul Ash, FCMA, CGMA

Digital transformation accelerated during the pandemic, putting increased focus on the adoption of new technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). However, these technologies are not perfect, and it takes a skilful and trustworthy professional to interpret the data they uncover.

Upon earning the CGMA designation, we undertake to act with integrity and honesty; provide information that is accurate and objective; and act with fairness and impartiality. It is on those values that we educate and regulate our students and members. Nonetheless, they face new tests from new technology.

This edition of FM magazine focuses on technology. I recently read Tim Harford's How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers. Among other things, Harford discusses how AI can be used to manipulate data, and the reality that we, as humans, are no longer in control of the data that AI generates. It's a sobering reminder of why the truth in numbers matters, and, even as professionals who use numbers every day, we must keep our numerical wits about us.

Other must-reads on this subject for me are Cathy O'Neil's Weapons of Math Destruction, which focuses on how big data, when in the wrong hands, can exploit people and distort the truth, and Mark Coeckelbergh's AI Ethics. In his book, Coeckelbergh writes: "Automation powered by AI is predicted to radically transform our economies and societies, raising questions about not only the future and meaning of work but also the future and meaning of human life." All three are worth reading, and not just for those interested in this area.

We are leveraging technologies like data analytics to uncover and measure a business's intangible value and the truth behind the numbers. So, how do we ensure that the information we provide is accurate and objective? How can we be sure that the data we report on is the truth when we know that the algorithms used in AI may be distorted and, since they are created by humans, open to bias?

We cannot sidestep this problem. We do not have a choice. AICPA & CIMA made it our mission to tackle this head-on — through our thought leadership, learning, and education, and by enforcement of professional standards and ethics. We are committed to protecting and enhancing the profession and to producing highly skilled finance professionals who are proficient in data and strategy and have a digital mindset. With training and learning provided by AICPA & CIMA, we have no reason to stop trying to produce the best data that we can and, therefore, to help firms make better decisions.

The role of the accountant and use of data are set to grow as organisations change their business models; and measurement and reporting will become even more critical to decision-making and assurance. For example, as reporting on ESG (environmental, social, and governance factors) comes under increasing scrutiny, tech-enabled data gathering will help us deliver on these new demands on our profession and enable us to succeed.

In some ways these technological developments make our future more uncertain, as good as we will be in adjusting to them. However, be assured that we — both management and public accountants — have the skills and experience to adapt to whatever lies ahead. With the support of colleagues and friends at AICPA & CIMA, we can thrive. There are risks in new technologies but also rewards. AICPA & CIMA are here to support you in managing these challenges.


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