Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: AI, Automation, and Tech Jobs

No, AI won't eat your job, say tech chiefs, and here's why

New technologies will create new jobs rather than destroy them, but only if we can prepare for the AI economy now.

robotworker.jpg
Will you be replaced with a robot? Image: iStock

Fears that artificial intelligence will munch through our job prospects and leave us slumped on the scrap-heap may be overblown, according to tech chiefs.

There's been much debate about how automation, whether that's robots replacing workers in warehouses or smart algorithms replacing white-collar jobs, could be bad for employment.

But when asked whether they thought the emergence of artificial intelligence would have negative consequences for employment, the ZDNet/TechRepublic panel of tech decision makers voted 'no' by a margin of eight to four, providing a slightly different take on the consequences.

Rob Neil, head of business change and technology Ashford Borough Council, said the market will adapt and throw up new opportunities, as ever. "I did an AI MSc in 1990, and although some of the stuff has manifested itself in Siri, Google Translate, Image Search and the like, the much-anticipated wholesale removal of the workforce thanks to intelligent computers has yet to materialise. I won't hold my breath."

Meanwhile, David Wilson, IT manager at VectorCSP, said: "Any new technology creates a whole new workforce to support it," while Dirk De Busser, IT manager at Fashion Club 70, made a similar point: "It will have consequences for employment, but I don't think it will be negative. It's just a normal evolution of automatization. And that's already [been] happening a few decades."

Rocky Goforth, director of IT operations and infrastructure at Thoratec, said artificial intelligence is likely to mean organizations can do more with the same-sized team, while Mike Klaus, information systems manager at City of Kearney, said: "I see this as a natural progression."

Florentin Albu, CIO at Rothamsted Research, said: "I do not believe that the emergence of AI will have significant impact on employment in the next 10 years." But not all tech chiefs were so confident.

Trouble Ahead?

John Gracyalny, VP of IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union, said: "I believe that AI will reduce the overall employment level. I see it as automating far more jobs than it creates. It has the possibility of creating more, but I don't think our social and educational systems are up to the task of training people for the 'AI economy' fast enough to make up the difference."

And Chuck Elliott VP of IT at Concord University, warned that there are already negative consequences for employment, pointing to lights-out manufacturing and predictions that nearly half of US jobs could be automated within the next 20 years. "These trends will continue," he predicted, adding: "With computers and AI diminishing the value of human labor, the more important question, in my opinion, is will the positive consequences outweigh the negative? Will new jobs and new types of jobs sufficiently offset the automation trends that will reduce the need for human workers? I welcome any good news for our children and future generations!"

This week's CIO Jury was:

David Wilson, IT manager at VectorCSP
Florentin Albu, CIO at Rothamsted Research
Shawn Beighle, CIO, International Republican Institute
Madhushan Gokool, IT manager at Storm Models
Mike Klaus, Information Systems Manager at City of Kearney
John Gracyalny, VP of IT at SafeAmerica Credit Union
Delano A. Gordon, CIO, Roofing Supply Group
Dirk De Busser, IT Manager at Fashion Club 70
Chuck Elliott VP of IT, Concord University
Rob Neil, head of business change and technology at Ashford Borough Council
Rocky Goforth, director of IT operations and infrastructure at Thoratec
Michael Hanken, VP of IT, Multiquip

Want to be part of TechRepublic's CIO Jury and have your say on the hot issues for IT decision-makers? If you are a CIO, CTO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company, working in the private sector or in government, and you want to join TechRepublic's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should, then get in contact. Either click the Contact link below or email me, steve dot ranger at techrepublic dot com, and send your name, title, company, location, and email address.