Don’t you love an intriguing headline? I’m not going to talk about our beloved IT jobs just yet, but some other industries are in for a wake-up call.


Microsoft Research made an interesting announcement recently. Tasked with improving digital speech recognition, Xuedong Huang (Microsoft’s chief speech scientist) declared 12 months ago ““Speech technology is so close to the level of human performance,” he said. “I believe in the next three years we’ll reach parity.” They’ve done it in less than a year.


Microsoft’s speech recognition system is now making the same or fewer errors than professional human transcriptionists. The 5.9 percent error rate is about equal to that of people who were asked to transcribe the same conversation, and it’s the lowest ever recorded against the industry standard Switchboard speech recognition task. “We’ve reached human parity,” said Xuedong Huang, the company’s chief speech scientist. “This is an historic achievement.” Deep neural networks with large amounts of data were key to this technology breakthrough. Does it spell the end for human transcriptionists? Services like Facebook and YouTube already offer automatic captioning and their technology is only going to get better.


We’re on the brink of coding computers to make better recommendations than we do.


The Xero financial software is a great example of this. At this year’s Xerocon event in Brisbane, Australia, CEO Rod Drury showed off plans to remove the option for adding accounting codes when entering invoices. Why remove this fundamental accounting task feature? Because humans are stuffing it up and machines can do it better. In Xero’s tests, it took a very small amount of time for the machines to learn which things to code to which accounts, resulting in a lower error rate than when a human inputted the data. Watch out, bookkeepers. The technology enhancements in the financial services industry are just getting started.


Again, the key is access to data. Machines can hold significant more historical data than the human brain can. They are faster at analyzing it and they are better at identifying unexpected patterns. Have you ever run Insights across data in Microsoft’s Power BI? The question in the air is whether this analysis will see bots become better financial advisers than our accountants, based on historical trends and current economic analysis.


Just as IT Pros are told not to ignore the rise of Cloud computing; other industries should be careful not to sleep when machine learning and AI are on the rise. This is the real digital disruption for the companies that we provide IT support for.


Are we prepared for it?