No chance of Skynet: Forrester pours cold water on AI fears


Forrester Research Inc. has weighed into the debate on artificial intelligence (AI) technology and its potential to one day steal everyone’s jobs, definitively stating that it won’t happen, and that it’s highly unlikely robots will take over the world either.

The analyst firm’s reassuring words come after dire warnings from prominent individuals such as Professor Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, the co-chairman of OpenAI, who have both gone on record as to the existential threat posed by intelligent machines. Fears of a Terminator-style apocalypse are so profound that Google’s DeepMind has even teamed up with the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University to create a so-called “AI panic button” to prevent humanity from being wiped out.

But Forrester, in a new study entitled “The Future Of White-Collar Work: Sharing Your Cubicle With Robots”, says such measures are unnecessary, as the threat posed by AI has been massively exaggerated by individuals such as Musk and Professor Hawking.

“Don’t believe the hype – Google AlphaGo’s gaming successes and IBM Watson will not usher in a dystopian triumph of machines over humans,” Forrester concluded from its study.

In the report, Forrester takes a closer look at the role AI is set to play in white-collar jobs in the future. The research firm interviewed experts from more than 30 AI vendors and user companies, including IBM Watson, and found that most enterprises are not ready for the “cognitive tipping point”, which it defines as the point at which AI alters the nature of specific jobs and can work alongside humans.

Forrester says just seven percent of human jobs will be taken by robots by 2025. However, it says that 16 percent of white-collar jobs in the U.S. will eventually be taken by robots, though they will also help to create nine percent of jobs in the same time. Currently, there are an estimated 89 million cubicle workers in the U.S., but that figure will drop to just 12 million by 2025.

Those working in customer service will be among the worst affected, but more skilled professionals such as physicians and soil scientists have a much brighter future, with only 23 percent of survey respondents saying these jobs will be disrupted by AI. Elsewhere, business, management and financial-related jobs will also stave off automation until at least 2021, due to the need for “conceptual and abstract thinking” in these roles.

Even so, Forrester says we humans have nothing to fear, as automation will free us up to perform “higher-value work” while also helping to create more jobs.

To further assuage our fears, Forrester reminds us that the automation of white-collar jobs actually began over a century ago and has accelerated rapidly with the arrival of computers.

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