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AI Is Coming for Highly Skilled Jobs, Too

You studied for hours at the library, making sacrifices to earn your advanced degree to become a doctor, lawyer or skilled IT professional. After all that, meet your replacement: artificial intelligence.

A Gartner report making the rounds this week found AI is not only able to replace low-skill or repetitive positions, but highly trained professions as well, including IT, medicine and law. By 2022, the study found smart machines, AI and robots could turn these careers into what the survey called "low-cost utilities."

"AI's effects on different industries will force the enterprise to adjust its business strategy. Many competitive, high-margin industries will become more like utilities as AI turns complex work into a metered service that the enterprise pays for, like electricity," Stephen Prentice, vice president and Gartner Fellow, wrote in the report "Prepare for When AI Turns Skilled Practices Into Utilities."

The debate about whether robots and AI will take jobs away from people, or actually create more opportunities through the technology, is one that has raged for a time, but has picked up steam more over the last few months as companies keep adding elements of AI and machine learning to their offerings. (See Will AI Create More Jobs Than It Destroys?)

Please train your replacement (Source: Stux via Pixabay)
Please train your replacement (Source: Stux via Pixabay)

To counter the narrative that we're all replaceable by a machine, as well as way to score political points as being job creators, companies have touted their plans to generate real jobs, for real people, including Infosys, best known for outsourcing. (See Cloud Drives Infosys Plan to Bring 10K Jobs To US.)

The Gartner report tries to split the difference, emphasizing that while AI can take jobs, it can also create more as well. It urges CIOs to create a five-year plan that mixes AI with jobs that people can still do and contribute to the business.

Yet AI does offer the lure of cost cutting at some level.

For instance, when an enterprises hires a lawyer for its legal department, that person expects a salary and benefits that reflect his or her schooling and continued compensation for working in a highly skilled field that's an essential part of the company.

However, if AI is involved, and can make legal decisions based on its learning of the law, enterprises might have a large up-front cost in buying these machines, but they can then continue to add systems and save in the long-run since there are no salary raises or other compensation once the smart machine has been programmed. (See AI, Cognitive Spending Soaring to $12.5B in 2017.)

The law department is just one part of the enterprise that could feel the AI effect. In the IT department, Gartner finds that machines could replace system administration, help desk, project management and application support.

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The report also notes the financial industry is ripe for AI, with loan origination and insurance claims adjustment primed for automation.

So as not to make people stare at their diplomas and despair, Prentice notes that humans are still good at many things, including problem solving, while AI is best at taking over repetitive jobs that are narrow in scope.

"AI is most successful in addressing problems that are reasonably well-defined and narrow in scope, whereas humans excel at defining problems that need to be solved and at solving complex problems," Prentice writes. "They bring a wide range of knowledge and skill to bear and can work through problems in various ways. They can collaborate with one another, and when situations change significantly, humans can adjust."

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— Scott Ferguson, Editor, Enterprise Cloud News. Follow him on Twitter @sferguson_LR.

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Phil_Britt 5/18/2017 | 2:06:58 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? I am an AARP member, and know of others my age who already don't drive at night. I leave a lot more room to stop than I used to, but too often, it just invites someone to cut in and out of the lane in front of me. 

I'm glad that autonomous cars should evenutally help the elderly not lose their independence when they physicallly can't drive any more.
Ariella 5/18/2017 | 1:53:51 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? < By the time they become affordable, I will be nearing the age where one has to think if it's still safe to drive oneself. < @PhilBrit that actually is a major component of the defensive driving class offered by AARP. I took that class twice (and I 'm still too young to be a member) when it was offered in my library. It differs from the standard one in part because it includes discussions of macular degeneration, slowed reflexes, loss of hearing, impariment due to drugs, lack of flexibility, etc. All those are issues that older drivers have to take into account when considering whether they pose a danger to the safety of themeselves or others on the road. 
Phil_Britt 5/18/2017 | 1:07:31 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? My sister had same problem as you with the leaking ice maker. Ours never worked correctly, so we still use ice trays, and buy bags for large gatherings. Years ago a friend bought a 1960s car because he knew how to fix it. Don't know if he still has it.

But it is nice to have machines handle those things that we don't want to or can't. I am actually looking forward to self-driving cars. By the time they become affordable, I will be nearing the age where one has to think if it's still safe to drive oneself. 
Ariella 5/17/2017 | 9:48:37 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? @mhhf1ve the more features, the more problems. Even before smart appliances became a thing, the fridges that connected to a water supply to make ice and dispense water also caused problems regularly -- as our local appliance repairman can atest. After experiencing leaks, we replaced the one we had with a more basic style ---- and ice cube trays.
mhhfive 5/17/2017 | 9:40:20 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? We're not at the "replace not repair" point with cars yet, but I had a refrigerator that basically needed to be replaced because its fancy computer inside was broken. Needless to say, I'm not too keen on smart fridges....
Ariella 5/17/2017 | 3:38:10 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? @mhhf1ve yes, but for cars we're generally not quite at that point yet. And though I may just get a new pair of shoes when new heels alone cost $20, I don't consider having to get new tires cause for replacing the car even when its book value may not amount to much more than 4 new tires.
mhhfive 5/17/2017 | 3:33:24 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? When robots get smart enough to manufacture just about anything, I think "repairs" become "just replace" because it'll be cheaper to just get a new item than to repair it. We're already almost at that point with kitchen appliances.
Ariella 5/17/2017 | 2:26:07 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? @dancawrey but part of the point of machine learning is that the tech is capable of leanring new skills and adaptations. So it's only a question of time -- when not if -- AI will extend automation to much more sophisticated tasks, say like fixing cars and so displacing mechanics. So much in car repair today is already linked to computers, so an R2D2 type thing that can plug itself directly into the car's computer and then extends its built-in tools to fix it may just be the ideal mechanic. And in case you're wondering, yes, I spent hours today waiting at a car dealership for a diagnosis and relatively simple repair.
Ariella 5/17/2017 | 2:23:02 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? @mhhf1ve agree with you about the odds of destruction. I'm not sure it would be a utopia for people to have so much less work to do. For some people, sure, they'd enjoy reading,learning new things, travel, etc. But some would just turn into couch potatos, and that actually leads to feeling useless and depressed.
mhhfive 5/16/2017 | 6:44:36 PM
Re: When do the machines take over? In an "endless lounging" society, I assume there would also be things to do that weren't "lounging" as well -- but that these activities wouldn't necessarily be a required part of living a comfortable life. 

When we finally figure out fusion energy.. we'll have to think of what else to do.... 

(I don't think I'll live to see this future, and who knows, we might destroy the planet well before we achieve any kind of employment-utopia.)
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