I recently attended an accounting conference in Las Vegas.
I am sure to most readers this sounds like a boring subject. To the contrary, the conference was extremely enlightening – with potentially frightening implications.
The premise of the conference is that mankind has always faced disruption. Disruption imposes behavioral changes.
Disrupted parties fall into three categories. Those who are unable to change are typically disenfranchised. Those who adapt to change manage to survive.
Finally, there are those who innovate as a result of change. Innovators frequently, but not always, benefit from change.
Today, technology is the principal driver of societal disruption. From the closing days of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance, technology did not change much and life, for the most part, did not change either for over a thousand years.
However, the Renaissance led to the Industrial Revolution, which in turn resulted in the technological revolution we are currently experiencing.
Technology increases the rate of disruption and change. Consider that, in 1960, computers were a rarity. We needed to develop computers for our space program.
In 1969, we sent men to the moon with a computer on board. Twenty years later, we developed personal computers that were comparable to the computers used in the lunar landing.
Today, virtually everyone carries a smartphone possessing cyber capabilities dwarfing what was used in the Apollo program.
Those who were around in 1969 have seen change in many aspects of their lives. That change was brought about by new ways of doing things, causing disruption in the environment around you.
We just went through an election cycle that was so disrupted, it made the “House of Cards” television show look tame.
I am not sure which category of disrupted parties our political system is in. Much of the political disruption is the direct result of societal disruption and politicians’ inability to adequately address the associated issues.
Too many people are finding that they cannot adapt or innovate. Consequently, they feel disenfranchised.
Dealing with those left behind may prove to be the biggest challenge of the 21st century.
Future technological disruption was displayed when a presenter at the conference showed how a laptop or smartphone will be able to be your adviser. The presenter used a common laptop featuring an avatar who replaced his secretary.
The device used artificial intelligence to predict the presenter’s future schedule, alerting him to opportunities and challenges he might face, including suggestions for an optimal course of action.
I suspect this software might be available to all of us sooner than we think. We must consider how disruptive this technology will be.
Obviously, the person’s human secretary will no longer have a job. Technology is replacing workers rather than making them more productive.
Another disruptive aspect is that the user of this technology will be better informed and presumably will be able to make better decisions.
This will level the playing field as more people are able to access technology to enhance their decision-making abilities.
Unfortunately, there is also a dark side to technology. At some point we can question whether the decisions will be made by the person using the technology or whether the decisions will be made by the technology itself.
Will the software algorithms become the thought police of George Orwell’s 1984?
Then there is the issue of ethical use of technology by those who control it. Cybercrime is rampant and extremely profitable. Thus the technology, and data gathered by such technology, can fall into the control of the wrong people and be used for nefarious purposes.
I’ll bet members of Hillary Clinton’s staff whose emails were exposed by WikiLeaks are contemplating how disruptive the stolen data was to the election.
Alternatively, the owners of legitimately gathered data can use that data for new purposes. Consider the case of a retailer who collects data on the sale of dog food.
The retailer has a list of everyone who purchased dog food using a credit card. The owner of that information could sell the list to local veterinarians who could solicit business from dog owners.
They also could sell the list to the Department of Animal Control, which could use it to identify people with unlicensed dogs.
Thus the use of data can be exploited in many disruptive ways.
As you can see, instead of another boring accounting conference, the event in Las Vegas was more like a Ray Bradbury seminar discussing some of our most important issues.
Jim de Bree is a retired CPA who resides in Valencia.