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Side by Side: Will AI make IT jobs redundant?

Welcome back to Side by Side, the series of Brother Spark blogs where we invite two experts to share their insights into a topic that’s high on the industry’s agenda.

For our latest instalment, we’re looking at the potential for Artificial Intelligence to disrupt the IT jobs market. 

A study by PwC has forecast that, by the mid-2030s, up to 30% of all jobs could be automatable. 

But what about the impact on IT jobs specifically? 

What jobs and skills are most at risk, what new roles will emerge to replace them and how can IT professionals futureproof their careers? 

To find out more, we spoke with James Lloyd-Townshend, chief executive at Nigel Frank International, the largest Microsoft technology recruitment firm in the world, and David Shrier, author of AI and the Future of Work and program director for Oxford Cyber Futures

The machines are rising

Author and academic David Shrier says IT jobs are under threat, but that AI and humans both have distinct skill sets and should work together:

IT professionals should be worried about AI automation replacing them. 

While automation first began taking over lower-order functions like network monitoring or error checking, AI systems have been getting progressively more sophisticated and are assuming higher and higher-order functions, from technical support to coding. 

It is not out of the question that, 10 years from now, we could see most computer programs being written by AI systems, with humans relegated to monitoring, strategy and high-level design functions. 

Technology visionary Erik Brynjolfsson of MIT Sloan compares the coming disruption to the labour dislocation seen in the Industrial Revolution.

New skills

Savvy professionals are reskilling and positioning themselves for roles that require so-called soft skills; those that require high degrees of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. 

However, it’s not all a one-for-one (or one-for-many) replacement of people by computers. 

There is a new model of AI that is gaining traction. 

Termed “extended intelligence” it is a major focus within the The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and could represent a new evolution for human IT workers. 

Extended intelligence, sometimes called augmented intelligence, describes a system where humans and AI are working together synergistically.

Better together

From virtual digital assistants to “AI coaches”, extended intelligence systems offer a vision of a future where new achievements are unlocked that cannot easily be attained either by humans or AI.  

For example, extended intelligence systems studied by Prof. Alex Pentland’s research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been able to harness the collective intelligence of large numbers of people, moderated by AI systems, to correctly predict future events. 

This is a very high-order level of creativity and insight that neither machines nor people have been able to achieve with equivalent precision and accuracy. 

However, many issues of process, ethics, and implementation remain to be addressed. 

Ethicists such as Prof. Luciano Floridi of the Oxford Internet Institute have proposed frameworks to ensure  AI systems work for the benefit of humanity instead of becoming our new overlords. Governments such as the European Union are creating guidelines and oversight mechanisms for implementing AI systems. 

And innovators around the world are launching new businesses that take advantage of this advanced hybridisation of human and machine.

AI can’t do everything

Recruitment chief James Lloyd-Townshend says IT professionals who plan ahead to futureproof their careers can neutralise any threat from AI:

Advances in machine learning within cloud technology has seen the use of AI grow rapidly over the last few years, both from a software perspective and through continued advances in application development and implementation.

But what we’ve learned from the cloud market’s response to AI’s potential impact is that companies have not lost sight of the intrinsically human qualities still needed for roles such as customer service and employee-centric departments like HR.

Still, the potential for AI to replicate duties traditionally carried out by a workforce has brought about understandable concern, particularly in ever-evolving industries like IT.

The need for knowhow

While this naturally stokes fears of reshuffles and even redundancies, there are firms that recognise AI as a chance to create new opportunities in those more human roles.

From an economic perspective, AI and the cloud are two industries that are growing exponentially alongside one another and at a similar rate, but both are equally in need of specialists with the knowhow to develop them.

In the wake of the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak, we’ve seen an upsurge in cloud migration from firms eager to safeguard against a second wave and accommodate the need for remote working.

A viable route

Much like AI, the large-scale adoption of cloud technology relies on a skilled workforce from the word go, and this has become an established route for professionals with the expertise to help drive and implement this transition.

Thanks to the popularity of platforms such as AWS and Microsoft Azure, there is a growing demand for skilled, certified experts and this is a viable route for those concerned about the impact of AI on their current roles.

Read more practical careers advice for IT professionals.

 

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