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Half of work activities could be automated by 2055

Clint Boulton | Jan. 23, 2017
A McKinsey researcher says that while robots and machines will usurp some jobs, most humans will take on new roles as automation boosts productivity.

"People are going to make decisions that will cause things to happen more quickly or more slowly, which is what we wanted to reflect in our modeling," Chui says. "What will actually happen is going to be determined by the decisions that technologists, policymakers and business leaders make and we want to reflect that in our model."

AI's timeline adds uncertainty to automation

It's also impossible to anticipate breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, including natural language processing and machine learning capabilities, that may accelerate automation, as well as to what extent they will create new jobs.

Advances in natural language processing and machine learning produce a Cambrian crush of light AI technologies emerged in 2016. Chatbots have extended from messaging platforms to corporate IT departments while ecosystems are springing up around virtual assistants such as's Alexa. Roboadvisers, in which software assists with delivering financial advice, are increasingly becoming a standard offering in financial services.

As a result, Chui says that it is tough to estimate AI's potential as machines learn to process natural language more effectively. "It will unlock a lot of potential," Chui says.

But most corporate IT departments are just beginning to figure out how to incorporate AI to better serve customers, according to Forrester Research. Despite strong interest in investing in AI technologies, many enterprises don't understand how to apply AI to meet specific business objectives. Another hurdle: The talent pool is essentially the human capital management equivalent of a puddle, which means deploying AI in a business context is challenging.

"Businesses are just beginning to jump on the bandwagon," writes Forrester analysts Rowan and Brandon Purcell, in a new report released Wednesday. "Without a well-worn path to ROI, however, many organizations have difficulty justifying investment at this point."

It's a fair point. Capital One, Whirlpool and Wingstop are among the dozens of company's using Alexa to bolster customer service, but the impact the technology will have on their businesses is unclear. As Wingstop CIO Stacy Peterson told, Alexa is largely a software service for tech-savvy consumers.

So what does this all mean for the CIO? Chui recommends that CIO's continue to expand their experimentation with AI and automation tools, which are rapidly becoming table stakes for business operations. "I think that's more true than it's ever been going forward," Chui says.


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