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Smart machines could cost tech industry millions of IT jobs

J.D. Sartain | Jan. 3, 2014
End-of-year reports from Gartner suggest that, over the next five years, smart machines could replace human workers in a plethora of industries, from manufacturing to warehousing to transportation. Is it a 'futuristic fantasy,' as a majority of CEOs tell the analyst firm, or a harsh reality?

Lost Jobs, Yes, But Also Better Opportunities
In a similar report, Forrester analysts Christopher Mines and Michele Pelino note that smart computing using "sensors, networks and analytics software to connect physical objects and infrastructure to computing systems will provide unprecedented visibility and control of the status, location and activities of products, assets and infrastructures."

These so-called "connected world solutions" can link physical assets to analytics and control systems over the Internet, they continue, allowing firms to make decisions "based on comprehensive and real-time understanding of situations."

Yes, smart machines have evolved beyond basic automation into HAL 9000-like, self-learning systems that can function much like the human brain when programmed to do so. Artificial intelligence and cognitive systems have progressed to such sophisticated levels. Many highly specialized professions will soon succumb to these technologies, leaving humans out of the equation, with job loss figures in these specialized areas over the next decade nothing short of astronomical.

According to Susan Etlinger, an industry analyst with the Altimeter Group, there have always been shifts in the perceptions of new technologies such as these. Some sectors are and will be more affected by smart machines than others. "We originally assumed that the most affected industries would be mining and farming, not the media and computer industries," she says.

But for every negative study that screams, "Lost jobs," another study replies, "Better opportunities," Etlinger says. "We've become a more technology- and data-dependent economy with businesses and households full of smart machines that can do everything from regulating lights and thermostats to preparing meals and cleaning house."

People will have to accept the reality that science is continuing to advance — and that every step forward carries with it a corresponding ethical dilemma. "Technology is advancing much more quickly than our ability to build in safeguards," Etlinger says. "Therefore, we must educate ourselves about these technologies, so we can manage them responsibly."

According to Harris-Ferrante, transformation is key and remains critically significant across all sectors. Many industries will face intense challenges in 2014 and beyond, leaving no choices — except to radically change their established business models in order to keep pace with the competition and the ever-progressing environment.


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