Is IBM Watson Coming for Your Job?

By Jared Korver, CPA

Assuming you don’t keep your head buried in the sand, you’ve almost certainly seen articles like these, or Facebook videos like these discussing the impact of automation on jobs that historically have been done by humans. This is nothing particularly new, this idea that robots and machines will come for us all, eventually.

You know what is new? IBM WATSON AND H&R BLOCK TAKING OVER THE WORLD OF PERSONAL TAX RETURNS AND ADVERTISING IT DURING HALFTIME OF THE SUPER BOWL. That’s new. I don’t even do tax returns anymore and I felt threatened!

So is Watson coming for your job? I don’t know, honestly. But I do know that tax return preparation, and audits, and pretty much any accounting function will at the very least be dramatically changed by Watson-like software, and my guess is the timeline for that is closer to 3-5 years than 15-20.

Therefore, I suppose the better question is, What is it that you will always be able to do better than software? Because if you can answer that question, and then focus on getting better at those things, you don’t have any reason to worry about Watson. So here are three things that I think you will always be able to do better than software:

  1. Talk. Now, the IBM Watson commercials all lead you to believe that you can have a very nice, civil, normal conversation with a robot. This is false. You can’t. You know who you can have a conversation with? That’s right, a human. So, if you’re interested in not having a black box take your cubicle seat, get better at communicating. Not just speaking, but also writing, and the opposite of talking, which is listening. Next time the association does something with Toastmasters, take advantage of it! Or volunteer for a bigger part of a presentation to a client or colleagues! The possibilities are endless.
  1. Have friends. Robots can’t have friends or even casual relationships, which means you have a huge advantage in selling work for your firm, or hiring people you know who would be great for your company, or getting a promotion. Because, sure, Watson might do really good work at H&R Block, but he’s never going to run H&R Block. So, if you want to keep Watson from stealing your job, get better at establishing meaningful relationships. Go to some of the many free networking events that the association puts on, get involved with non-profits, and start honing your sales skills (everyone has to sell eventually).
  1. Mentor. You can learn facts and processes by interacting with software, but I daresay you’ve never been mentored by it. This gets at a fundamental part of what it means to be human—just watch any baby or toddler: How do they learn to walk? By watching another human walk, and trying it out themselves. How do they learn to talk? By listening to another human talk, and trying it out themselves. How do they learn to do anything? By watching and trying. So, if you want to remain more valuable to your employer than Watson will ever be, get better at being a mentor. Use a resource like Mentor Match, or do it organically within your own company, or find your own unique way of doing it. No one will ever watch a robot to learn how to be a professional, but they will watch you.

I think if we focus on doing the human parts of our jobs better and better, then we will only welcome the Watsons of the world, because they will further enable us to do what we’re best at to begin with: being human.

 Jared Korver, CPA, works at Beacon Wealthcare, where he helps CPAs and attorneys spend more time doing the things they care about by providing ongoing advice and insight into their financial decisions. A product of Carthage, North Carolina, Jared and his wife Amy live in Raleigh with their son. Jared holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting from Appalachian State University and NC State University, respectively. He can be reached at