By Chris Hollands

8 June 2017

I was reading an interesting article the other day about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cognitive computing. I thought it might be worth sharing some of the thoughts with you in case you had ever contemplated using automation in the compilation of one of your reports. computer

People initially believed that the way to develop more advanced AI was in fact some form of "Key Word" analysis. Get the computers to pull all the words in your workpapers together, if you like, and come up with some form of report.

The problem is that sentences use words but people really don't use words in their minds except to get to the underlying ideas. It is therefore not surprising that computers have a hard time pulling together a summary because computers can't actually think.

In the 1980's people started to get computers to understand language itself but today key words are still dominating the thoughts of those who try to get computers to deal with language.

Indeed, in an excellent article by Roger Schank he suggests that whilst IBM claim that their "Watson programme" is capable of "cognitive computing" that is just not so.

As we know, humans learn from interaction and conversation, but search engines such as Google can't interact as they rely on the key words to give you a result. You can interact with programmes like Siri, but those are not conversations and are short lived once you have found a place to eat! They too use key words. To illustrate the point about their machine "Watson", IBM have taken out advertisements in support of their programme, which appear to be just downright wrong and prove my point.

Apparently, "Watson" can read 800 million pages per second and was tasked with examining the work of Bob Dylan.

In so called "cognitive mode" it identified that key themes in the old Rocker's work were "Time passes" and Love fades".

I have to admit to you now I am a child of the 60's, a Brit very familiar with the prevailing US culture of the time, including the Vietnam War. I didn't see him play the Isle of Wight in 1969, but aged 15, I was a devotee.

If you take one of his most popular songs (well it is with me) "The times they are a changin'.." and look at the words there is no mention of "Time passing" or "Love fading". Dylan was, at the time, a protest singer railing against the Vietnam War and civil rights. Indeed, there is the suggestion he never mentioned "anti-war" and this is why the computer never considered it.

On the other hand, the computer did count the number of times the words "Time" or "Love" appeared and thus thought it important to report this.

When it comes down to it, background knowledge matters a lot. If you asked a 20-year-old about Bob Dylan there is a good chance they would never have heard of him, or if they had it is because of the Nobel peace speech he made, you certainly cannot understand his songs from the 60's if you don't know their context.

Taking another line, if you heard a friend was buying a bottle of Scotch and lot of aspirin you might be worried. The computer on the other hand would be thinking in terms of adding ice cubes and pizza to the party shopping list (aspirin for hangover!) while you may be worried your chum is thinking about suicide.

People understand in context because they know about the world and real issues in people's lives. They don't count words. In my view, the computer does not have the ability to out think human brains in any area, even if there is an abundance of data. What it does have is the ability to crunch vast amount of information quickly and we should not ignore that.

Sadly, we are still in the realms of Sci-Fi when it comes to R2D2 assimilating your findings on the bank reconciliation and preparing a report for you. He is more likely to tell you that the company made 72 payments totalling $35,365 to Mavis Brown during the year.

In my mind that will probably trigger a fraud investigation, because I know she is the CEO's young assistant, my little droid friend would be blissfully ignorant of their romantic trysts.

If you want to talk to someone about how to maximise the report writing skills of your humans, then contact me for a chat.


Article by Chris Hollands, a director of TomJak Ltd, a company which specialises in audit training and consultancy