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Smart machines are coming to the business world, but don’t tell that to the CEOs. Sixty-percent of CEOs surveyed by Gartner Research say the emergence of smart machines capable of absorbing millions of middle-class jobs within 15 years is a “futurist fantasy.”
The survey results reflect the anxiety about automation of the work world and the advent of smart machines that Gartner says will have a widespread and deep business impact by 2020.
That CEOs are dismissive about smart machines should come as no surprise. Their perspectives reflect a common human reaction that a self-learning intelligent agent or robot will replace lots and lots of jobs. The reality is actually quite different. People will adapt to smart machines in their lives. It’s just out of the question that they would not. Without these smart machines, the work people do will be almost impossible to perform. Cloud services are early evidence that machines are replacing people. To keep data centers running, machines are programmed to adapt to different types of workloads.
According to Gartner, CEOs underestimate how fast smart machines will take millions of middle-class jobs in the coming decades. Kenneth Brant, research director at Gartner, said in a statement that the pace of “job destruction” will happen faster than the ability to create new ones.
The difference will come as machines evolve from automated tasks to more advanced self-learning systems that are as capable of doing very specialized jobs. In Gartner’s view, it’s this specialized work where jobs will likely be eliminated over the next several years. In particular, IT will feel the pain as there won’t be the need to do much of the manual work that technicians perform today.
There will be a thriving market for intelligent agents, virtual helpers, expert systems and a host of other services that leverage advancements in machine learning. Amazon, Google, GE and IBM will all become dealers in an emerging arms race that supplies the huge demand that will come from companies who need more digital workers to stay competitive.
What that means for the rest of us is still the question. There are stories every day about new advances that foretell what is to come. Apple’s Siri, Google’s new Hummingbird algorithm and the rapid advances in IBM’s natural language processing all point to a time that may seem like a fantasy now but will just be the way “things” work in the years to come.