In the fall of 2016, Oliver Buechse, a Green Bay-based strategy consultant, attended a conference in Silicon Valley with a focus on disruption in the financial industry.

Interacting with the artificial intelligence and fintech community, Buechse noticed something different about the discussions there. Concepts like artificial intelligence and machine learning weren’t theoretical, far-off possibilities, but rather present realities. AI, clearly, had already arrived on the West Coast.

“All of California was abuzz about AI,” Buechse said. “I thought, why aren’t we talking about this in Wisconsin?”

Wisconsin’s apparent tardiness to the conversation concerned Buechse and he left compelled to spread the word.

Buechse left Silicon Valley convinced that Wisconsin, on the whole, was lagging in its preparation for AI’s impending impact.

“The whole game is going to be changed,” he said. “And if we want to play in the game in Wisconsin, we have to get in the game. Otherwise this revolution will happen to us. We’re going to be on the receiving end of productivity enhancements rather than participating in it.”

It wasn’t feasible for him to send Wisconsin’s business executives out to California, but Buechse figured the message could be brought to them.

He began connecting with others who shared his sense of urgency and spreading the message to those who were unaware – representatives from the banking and finance industries, technologists, educators and elected officials.

Those grassroots conversations materialized earlier this year into a formalized initiative, called ACTION Wisconsin, aimed at creating awareness of disruptive technologies and their impact on the state’s businesses, workforce needs and educational system. The group is ad hoc, it isn’t looking for funding, and its members hope to dissolve it once its message spreads more widely.

Kenneth Kortas, a partner at Wauwatosa-based accounting firm Wipfli LLP, signed on to the initiative, recognizing the coming transformation of his industry.

“From our perspective, this is going to dramatically change our industry in the next three to five to seven years,” Kortas said during a recent conversation among ACTION Wisconsin representatives in a Wipfli conference room. “What we do in accounting and taxes is going to be dramatically changed. I think every industry is asking that same question: What’s this going to mean relative to our workforce, to how we serve our customers, our clients?”

The accounting industry has already seen the shift begin, as IBM Watson – the question-answering computer that famously beat out human competitors in a game of “Jeopardy!” six years ago – recently began aiding H&R Block in the tax filing process.

“Watson is studying how H&R Block is interacting with consumers,” Kortas said. “It’s studying conversations – how do you interact with a tax filer so that the person doesn’t need to be there? Is that going to impact higher-end business tax work? We could stick our head in the sand and say it will never happen, but the reality is it’s going to be there.”

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