The world stood amazed when IBM’s Deep Blue computer defeated reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. We were even more amazed when another IBM computer, this one named Big Blue, defeated two well-known Jeopardy! champions on live TV in 2011. Both computers relied heavily on artificial intelligence to achieve their incredible feats. Knowing that, how would you react to the possibility of artificial intelligence transforming the world of online payroll?

Artificial intelligence in payroll processing is on its way, according to some of the speakers who attended the recent 2016 American Payroll Association fall forum in Las Vegas. They claim the payroll industry is steadily moving toward a day when robots with sufficient artificial intelligence are ready to take over some of the manual tasks now handled by human workers. How close is that day? No one knows for sure.

Humans Are Still Necessary

To the neophyte, it would seem as though processing payroll is nothing more than doing some advanced math calculations anybody could handle with a simple calculator. But there is a lot more to it than that. Human payroll processors are still required to address the complex rules that come with tax calculations and reporting.

Each of those rules has to be understood in light of an individual employee’s situation. Then they have to be applied to every employee, at the end of every pay cycle. The problem is that the nature of the rules opens the door to mistakes. Human beings have to be able to recognize any and all mistakes and make the necessary corrections.

Artificial intelligence is not quite there yet, but it’s well on its way. Software developers are quickly reaching the stage where they can empower computers to actually learn accounting rules, apply them, and make corrections on-the-fly. At least one of the experts at the fall conference believes that artificial intelligence capable of handling complex tax rules will be ready to go within the next decade.

What It Means for the Industry

Just as there is uncertainty with the idea of artificial intelligence in payroll processing, there is also uncertainty about what this means to the industry should the goals of software developers be realized. One suggestion is that those human payroll processors now required to keep things running will be transitioned into technician and diagnostic rolls instead. After all, someone will still have to look after the robots that do the heavy lifting.

Others suspect that large-scale layoffs within the payroll industry are unavoidable. That’s always a possibility, especially seeing what has happened in other industries that embraced robotics. In the end, however, losses in one industry tend to translate to gains in another. The introduction of robotics and artificial intelligence in payroll processing will create a more efficient and cost-effective system that will benefit employers in the long run.

Artificial intelligence will speed up the payroll process by automating a lot of tasks that still have to be done manually. It should eliminate almost all errors relating to tax withholding, calculating, and reporting. It will save money by also reducing the amount of time and the volume of resources still being dedicated to payroll processing.

Sooner Than We Think

If the experts at the fall conference are correct, artificial intelligence in payroll processing will be here sooner than we think. There will be some missteps along the way, there’s no doubt of that, but once it’s all working the way it should, online payroll will be an entirely new ballgame. It will be interesting to see what we ultimately end up with.