Into the future, together: AI and people working side by side


CFO Day explored the collaborative potential of AI and its implications for finance heads.

Closing off CFO Day, Dr Graeme Codrington, Futurist at Tomorrow Today Global, said as AI continues to advance, questions arise about its role in our lives. He asked, “Is AI an enabler, a collaborator, or a potential destroyer? Viewing AI as a binary choice between humans and machines limits our understanding of its capabilities. In reality, AI should be seen as IA or intelligent assistance, a tool that can enhance our collaborative efforts, rather than replace us.”

The hype and reality of AI

Graeme pointed out the importance of approaching emerging technologies with open eyes. He says that, “The hype surrounding new tech often exceeds its actual capabilities, leading to disillusionment as the technology evolves. Firms should avoid buying into exaggerated claims or undervaluing the available technology.”

He pointed out that there are screaming headlines from both enthusiasts and doomsayers:

“Fear-mongering around AI often stems from sensational headlines rather than comprehensive studies and should be critically examined. Scepticism is warranted when the motives of AI founders seem driven by a desire to eliminate competition rather than establish effective regulation.”

Understanding AI’s Current State

According to Graeme, while AI is often viewed as a monolithic and intimidating concept, it is important to recognise that what we currently have are large language models, not true AI. He said about ChatGPT, for instance, “These models function by predicting the next best word to complete a sentence, providing sensible answers to questions, and sounding intelligent. However, they lack a genuine understanding of right and wrong or true intelligence. Failure to understand how these models work can lead to significant mistakes.”

Implications for CFOs

AI is a powerful technology that has the potential to transform the way CFOs work. As its impact in the workplace continues to grow, Graeme offered the following approach for CFOs.

1. Acknowledge the arrival of AI
CFOs need to recognise that AI is coming, and preparation is essential. Unlike many significant events, AI’s full impact may not be immediate, but it is crucial to act strategically and avoid overreaction. Graeme said: “For the next while, jobs will not be taken, but CFOs who use AI will take jobs of those who don’t.”

2. Embrace augmentation with intelligent assistance
CFOs should start building a bionic approach that combines human expertise with AI’s intelligent assistance. Exploring how AI can elevate and enhance human capabilities is key to leveraging its potential effectively.

3. Harness data analytics and heuristics
To make intelligent decisions, a massive pool of data is required. Waiting until the moment of need to collect relevant data puts organisations two years behind. CFOs must prioritise capturing qualitative data alongside quantitative data to gain a comprehensive understanding of why specific approaches or decisions are made. By doing so, they can be prepared to generate meaningful responses when AI engines become available.

4. Embrace business model innovation
Graeme said business leaders should consider innovative business models, such as “accountants as a service,” leveraging the gig economy concept. Additionally, organisations should regularly upgrade their AI tools to keep pace with advancements, just as ChatGPT has undergone three upgrades.

5. X + AI: Beyond productivity
The combination of humans and AI can deliver more than just increased productivity, he noted: “Instead of burdening employees with additional work, organisations should explore the opportunity for improved efficiency and a healthier work-life balance. By working alongside AI, we can create excess capacity and focus on innovation, creativity, resilience, and agility.”

6. Understanding risks
Confidential or company data should not be entrusted to AI systems, and caution should be exercised when using ChatGPT for diagnostic purposes.

7. Proper Use of LLMs
Graeme encouraged training teams to use large language models, saying, “Encourage experimentation and provide opportunities for hands-on learning to explore their capabilities and determine what works best for the organisation.”

8. Explore productivity tools
Encourage teams to experiment with productivity tools that can enhance their existing workflows and processes. By embracing new technologies, organisations can improve efficiency and effectiveness in various areas of their operations.

9. Establish a task team
To navigate the complexities of AI integration, Graeme suggested appointing a chief AI officer, AI strategist or creating a task team dedicated to exploring AI’s impact on the business. “This team should develop a framework for maximising the benefits of AI, focusing not only on maximising its usage, but also on making informed decisions about its implementation.”

Graeme emphasised that AI is not a standalone force that will replace humans; rather, it has the potential to be a powerful collaborative tool when used effectively. He said: “By embracing AI as an intelligent assistant and augmenting human capabilities, CFOs can harness its potential to drive innovation, improve decision-making, and enhance overall organisational performance.”

CFO Day was made possible by principal partner Workday, executive partner BDO, and associate partners Allan GrayCaseware AfricaCircitCoupaSoluGrowth and Transparent.

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