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Companies are now writing reports tailored for AI readers – and it should worry us

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December 05, 2020 at 04:00PM

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A recent study suggests lengthy, complex corporate filings are increasingly read by, and written for, machines

My eye was caught by the title of a working paper published by the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER): How to Talk When a Machine Is Listening: Corporate Disclosure in the Age of AI. So I clicked and downloaded, as one does. And then started to read.

The paper is an analysis of the 10-K and 10-Q filings that American public companies are obliged to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The 10-K is a version of a company’s annual report, but without the glossy photos and PR hype: a corporate nerd’s delight. It has, says one guide, “the-everything-and-the-kitchen-sink data you can spend hours going through – everything from the geographic source of revenue to the maturity schedule of bonds the company has issued”. Some investors and commentators (yours truly included) find the 10-K impenetrable, but for those who possess the requisite stamina (big companies can have 10-Ks that run to several hundred pages), that’s the kind of thing they like. The 10-Q filing is the 10-K’s quarterly little brother.

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Companies are now writing reports tailored for AI readers – and it should worry us …

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