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Highly skilled professionals at risk of being replaced by computers

Highly skilled jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence by 2022, says Gartner

Artificial intelligence (AI) could go beyond replacing repetitive tasks and replace some of the tasks of skilled professionals in medicine, law and IT over the next five years.

Repetitive tasks, including IT and business processes as well as more complex financial advice roles, are already being completed by software robots and replacing thousands of people.

But according to Gartner, by 2022 even tasks completed by highly skilled professionals in medicine, law and IT could be replaced.

“The economics of AI and machine learning will lead to many tasks performed by professionals today becoming low-cost utilities,” said Gartner vice-president Stephen Prentice

“Many competitive, high-margin industries will become more like utilities as AI turns complex work into a metered service that the enterprise pays for, such as electricity.”

Gartner gave an example of a lawyer’s role being taken over by a machine: “A lawyer undergoes a long, expensive period of education and training. Any enterprise that hires lawyers must pay salary and benefits big enough to compensate for this training for each successive lawyer it hires.

“On the other hand, a smart machine that substitutes for a lawyer also requires a long, expensive period of training. But after the first smart machine, the enterprise can add as many other smart machines as it wants for little extra cost.”

Gartner also cited the insurance industry as a potential home for AI. Roles that carry out loan origination and insurance claims adjustment could be automated, it said.

This is already a reality, with Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance in Japan saying it will replace more than 30 staff by using IBM Watson cognitive computing software to read medical documents that are used to assess payments. The robots will calculate payment amounts but final decisions will continue to be made by a human.

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Meanwhile, in the financial services sector, SEB in Sweden is using IPsoft’s cognitive technology for customer services.

The software robot known as Amelia, which was launched in 2014, has an understanding of the semantics of language and can learn to solve business process queries like a human. It can read 300 pages in 30 seconds and learn through experience by observing the interactions between human agents and customers. 

But Gartner has some better news for human workforces, claiming new, more rewarding jobs will emerge. “While  AI will hit employment numbers in some industries, many others will benefit as AI and automation handle routine and repetitive tasks, leaving more time for the existing workforce to improve service levels, handle more challenging aspects of the role and even ease stress levels in some high-pressure environments,” it said.

CIOs, as the in-house AI expert, will play a key role in ensuring the adoption the technology leads to progress in the business, and at the same time they must use it to transform the IT operation.

Gartner said AI will replace routine functions of the IT organisation, such as system administration, help desk, project management and application support. “Some roles will disappear, but AI will improve some skills shortages, and the IT organisation as a whole will increasingly focus on more creative work that differentiates the enterprise,” it added.

The recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, discussed the risks posed by technology to jobs and political stability.

Problems highlighted by the WEF’s Global risks 2017 report included the fact that, as a result of AI and other disruptive technologies, long-term jobs were giving way to self-employment in the “gig” economy, leaving individuals to shoulder more responsibility for the costs of unemployment, sickness and old age.

Read more on Artificial intelligence, automation and robotics

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