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CMU Partnership Could Bring Artificial Intelligence To Accounting

Mark Nootbaar
90.5 WESA
Alessandro Acquisti sits in his CMU office from which he will run the Risk and Regulatory Services Innovation Center.

A new partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and one of the world’s largest business service firms could eventually result in smarter computer aided accounting.

The firm, PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, committed $11 million to CMU to create a new innovation center. Professor of Information Technology and Public Policy at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University Alessandro Acquisti will run the Risk and Regulatory Services Innovation Center, which will partner the interests of PwC clients with researchers at CMU.

“For instance, risk management, information security, technological innovations in the space of auditing, monitoring, compliance,” Acquisti said.

The center opened just two weeks ago, but Acquisti said several projects are already underway, including an effort to improve one of PwC's core services: accounting.

“One of the next exciting steps in this would be trying to use AI, so Artificial Intelligence, in auditing. Trying to streamline certain processes,” Acquisti said.

PwC clients often have huge sets of accounting data, which Acquisti said CMU researchers are anxious to get their hands on as they look to create AI solutions for accounting – a task all businesses must complete.

PwC Assurance Innovation Leader Mike Baccala said another area of focus will be the Internet of Things, or "machine-to-machine communication," and do-it-for-me technologies.

“These devices that are now collecting data and doing things with that data in our daily lives, how do we look at privacy and security around that?” Baccala asked. “How do we look at the different challenges around trust and transparency to try to understand a better way to help organizations face those kinds of challenges as they continue to emerge?”

PwC is hoping to see the first fruits of the three-year partnership in the second quarter of this year – a tight deadline for university researchers.

“One of the critical goals for us as a center will be to find the right mix between small short-term exploratory projects and much bigger, longer-term deeper projects,” Acquisti said.

At the same time, PwC will have to understand that university researchers like to publish their findings. Acquisti said that doesn’t mean the company and its clients can’t benefit from the findings.

“In some cases, it could be first mover advantage,” Acquisti said. “In other cases, it could be intellectual property associated with the research, which is not incompatible with publishing the research itself.”

Baccala said his firm is on board with publishing the research. He said he sees PwC’s role as helping its clients implement the new solutions.

People on both sides said they’re hopeful the partnership will be renewed after the three-year commitment expires.

In this week's Tech Headlines: 

  • Last month, the Department of Defense awarded an $80 million grant to Pittsburgh-based American Robotics. That money is in addition to $173 million American Robotics will get from more than 200 partners. Spun out Carnegie Mellon University, American Robotics is a nonprofit that will focus on the manufacturing of robotics, 3-D printing, artificial intelligence and other technologies, with the aim of making robotics affordable. CMU Robotics Institute professor Howie Choset, who is helping to craft the institute and its mission, said the goal is to make American manufacturing more competitive with lower cost overseas manufacturing, in addition to lowering the barrier for companies to access robotic technology. 
  • An international research team says it has discovered the key to storing computer data without using electricity. It could open the door to the realm of ultra-low power computer memory. The Center for Spintronics at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, conducted the joint research with MIT. The technology uses disturbances in magnetic fields known as “spin waves."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.