Beyond Mobile Intelligence: Smart Machines Poised to Replace Millions of Human Workers

Beyond Mobile Intelligence: Smart Machines Poised to Replace Millions of Human Workers

November 1

A while back, we did a fun piece on how mobile phones are being made even smarter through the use of artificial Intelligence. Then we did another post discussing how humans match up against computers at performing various IT tasks. We left both confident that despite its impressive IQ, technology wasn’t quite ready to put us out of work just yet. Fast forward to the present day and you’ll find us in awe over rumblings suggesting that the computers could have us marching towards the unemployment line sooner than anyone expected.

Gartner has been peeking into its digital crystal ball again, and the view is pretty murky as far as the human workforce is concerned. The veteran research firm predicts that smart machines in the form of mobile devices, virtual assistants, robots, and embedded software that give traditional devices all new capabilities will have a major impact on the job market over the next seven years. This is a small piece of many eye opening insights from a new report analysts discussed at a recent IT event.

Gartner research director Kenneth Brant said that by 2020, we will bear witness to a technological revolution that sees computers plotting with one another through software. But they won’t be chatting about the weather. They’ll be collaborating in effort to perform many of the jobs people are handling today. This so-called state of “social unrest” could reach a point where established economies are forced to restructure their economic infrastructures.

Who Should Worry?

The gloomy Gartner forecast is based on a number of aspects, including increased activity on both the supply and demand sides of smart machine technology, as well as the fact that computers are already phasing out the human element in a growing number fields. In the health care arena, for example, advanced technology is being used to diagnose cancer, prescribe treatments, and actually deliver those treatments to patients. The ability to learn and adapt on the fly has enabled machines to become as capable as the human brain, which is why Gartner says positions across middle-class fields the likes of transportation, construction, and warehousing could be affected.

According to Gartner, IT professionals performing specialized tasks such as science, transactions, and compliance should be most concerned about the rise of the machines as they are most likely to be replaced. Sounds rather ironic considering that the IT field calls for people to wield a broad range of technical tools to meet business objectives. The firm expects a round of job losses to take place during the next ten years, and said we could start seeing the people who perform these specialized tasks rise up in protest of the machines threatening to leave them out of work as early as next year.

State of Denial

In its 2013 CEO Survey, Gartner found that 60 percent of CEOs dismissed the power of smart machines to cause a disruption on the job market as futuristic foolery. Humans are a proud bunch, so it’s not too surprising to see corporate executives taking the “yeah whatever” approach to the possibility of a technology takeover. However, these leaders could be putting their organizations at risk. Gartner warns that companies that do no prepare to digitize their workforce by 2015 will be at a competitive disadvantage by 2020. Moreover, it said that CIOs who fail to prepare with their C-suite peers in the next two years will have their careers cut short by 2023. Pretty bold statements, here.

All in all, Gartner is predicting that smart machine technology will lead to millions of displaced human workers and have a major impact on business operations in the very near future. According to Brant, the machines are likely to destroy jobs faster than new ones can be created. The forecast looks pretty bleak, but on a positive note, he doesn’t think we will see what can be considered “mass unemployment” any time soon. Gartner cited a number of roadblocks with the potential to stall this computerized labor revolution, including the high cost of IT, legal issues, and the possibility that humans will actually outperform the machines designed to replace them.

Computers are taking on bigger workloads from the farmland to the factory and beyond. Where does the balance lie in your profession? Is your job secure for the next ten years? Or does Johnny Five have you looking over your shoulders?

Want more about mobile technology? Take a look at “Where do Business Turn for Mobile Technology with Blackberry on Life Support?“.