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PwC Announces Major Investment in Generative AI Technology

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PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) has unveiled plans to invest $1 billion in generative artificial intelligence (AI) technology for its US operations over the next three years. Collaborating with Microsoft Corp. and OpenAI, the makers of ChatGPT, PwC aims to automate aspects of its tax, audit, and consulting services.

The multiyear investment, announced recently, will include funding to hire more AI professionals, train existing staff in AI capabilities, and target AI software makers for potential acquisitions.

Generative AI tools can generate natural-language responses, images, or computer code based on user text prompts. PwC's objective is not only to develop and incorporate generative AI into its technology stack and client-services platforms but also to advise other companies on leveraging generative AI while helping them build these tools, says Mohamed Kande, PwC’s Vice Chair and Co-Leader of US Consulting Solutions and Global Advisory Leader.

Working with OpenAI and Microsoft

PwC plans to pay for access to OpenAI's GPT-4 language model, the underlying software that powers ChatGPT, in order to build and run apps on Microsoft's Azure cloud. Although ChatGPT is a free online tool, OpenAI charges developers to access its language model and create their software tools. The upgraded model has been trained on vast amounts of language data from various sources to comprehend natural-language prompts and generate coherent responses.

Potential Applications of Generative AI in PwC's Operations

Once the models are fully trained and tested, Kande envisions the technology being utilized for quickly writing reports, preparing compliance documents, analyzing and evaluating business strategies, identifying operational inefficiencies, and creating marketing materials and sales campaigns, among other applications. “This is about using generative AI to run the company in a more efficient way,” he said. “Embracing this technology is critical.”

The Role of Microsoft's Azure Cloud

Microsoft's AI platform corporate vice president, Eric Boyd, said that PwC's move will enable access to OpenAI's generative AI tools with the added compliance and data security offered by Azure cloud-computing service. Microsoft itself announced a multiyear, multibillion-dollar investment in OpenAI, a startup founded in 2015. Boyd said that over 1,000 organizations are currently using OpenAI tools on Microsoft's cloud for various purposes, such as customer support, conversational AI, summarization, writing assistance, and data extraction and classification.

Generative AI in the Accounting and Finance Industry

Other major accounting firms, like KPMG LLP and Ernst & Young, are also investing in generative AI. TurboTax owner Intuit Inc. is developing its own generative AI language model for financial management, trained on years of interactions with its business customers.

Analysts say that accounting, tax preparation, auditing, and other financial services are prime areas for generative AI. Rowan Curran, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said that large language models like GPT-4 can help with information discovery and retrieval, particularly when exploring unstructured and semi-structured data, and have the potential to improve report preparation processes with “much lower effort from the human auditors.”

Challenges and Future Outlook

Despite the potential benefits, using generative AI in areas like tax preparation requires professional validation, and it might create compliance issues, says Mark D. McDonald, Senior Director Analyst at Gartner Inc. However, Kande emphasizes that PwC's goal is not to replace workers with generative

Alex McFarland is a tech writer who covers the latest developments in artificial intelligence. He has worked with AI startups and publications across the globe.