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Tax and law related applications of natural language processing (NLP) studied in a student project

PwC is considering collaboration with growth companies found through the project.
Opiskelijoiden yritysprojektin tiimi, PwC
Matti Spoof (left), Antti Niku and Jari Kärkkäinen (PwC), Sanna Hyvönen, Tommi Nykänen and Tom Bäckström (Aalto) as well as Antti Hyttinen (PwC)

Natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning provide an opportunity to mechanically analyse large amounts of data very quickly and cost-effectively. NLP software solutions created for this purpose already exist in the major languages, but their ability to understand Finnish is very limited.

At PwC, experts read and analyse enormous amounts of pragmatic texts, such as annual reports, agreements and tax-related reports. Reading and analysing these texts takes time, and the possibility of human error increases as the amount of text material grows larger.

In a student business project customised for PwC, two Aalto students – Master's Degree student in Big Data and Machine Learning Sanna Hyvönen from the School of Electrical Engineering and fifth-year finance student Tommi Nykänen from the School of Business – started mapping out current operators and future solutions in the field of NLP. They also drew up a preliminary 'business case’ for PwC, in which they outlined how to proceed in the matter. Assistant Professor Tom Bäckström from the School of Electrical Engineering served as the academic advisor and brought his strong expertise in the field of speech technology to the project.

‘The technological solutions for Natural Language Processing (NLP) have evolved immensely over the past decade, and the time is now right to utilise them. NLP can enhance PwC's internal processes significantly, as the consultants do not have to use as much of their valuable working time to read documents. The students got to work with an energetic approach, and we all learned many new things. I was surprised at how many new small enterprises I had never heard of are found in this field in Finland. The project provided PwC with an information package which they can use to make decisions on the utilisation of NLP. It is exciting to see what direction they choose to take,’ says Tom Bäckström.

Technical expertise combined with commercial application

The students found the project extremely interesting because they got to work on highly topical themes. Moreover, they were able to assess from a front-row seat the technological development of the legal field and the utilisation of artificial intelligence as a part of everyday work.

‘We had a very close-knit project team of two persons, and it was fun to see how seamlessly the task combined technical expertise related to artificial intelligence and the assessment of concepts from a commercial point of view,’ the students explain.

According to Senior Tax Manager Jari Kärkkäinen, who represented PwC in the project, the students found several start-up companies that were not previously known to them and started discussions with these companies about potential cooperation, and they also explored future trends by interviewing Finland's leading researchers. The students also surveyed the risk factors to be considered and the competence and resources required for practical implementation. In addition, the project provided a good understanding of the recent achievements and challenges of NLP research carried out in Finnish.

Students challenged the corporate partner’s mindset

Jari Kärkkäinen from PwC says that PwC Finland is actively striving to find new innovations to improve the company’s range of services.

‘Cooperation with Aalto University provided us with an opportunity to challenge our own mindset and find new solutions in cooperation with the top experts of the future. In the project, we examined the processing of the Finnish language and Finnish legal language. These issues and the related innovations play a significant role in the development of our tax and legal services,’ he explains. 

‘The project team achieved the objectives set for the project splendidly. The project gave us fresh information on the new trends of natural language processing and on the Finnish start-up companies established in the field. The project helped us identify new Finnish start-up companies with whom we have continued discussing different possibilities of cooperation,’ concludes Jari Kärkkäinen.

The Customized Student Business Projects concept offers students the opportunity to work on solving current challenges faced by corporate business, giving the assigning company the possibility to develop and spar new ideas together with the students.

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