ITEM: Analyst firm Gartner is advising CIOs to beware of the Internet of Things – or at least "smart machines" that will leverage sensor-based data, advanced algorithms and AI to “make increasingly significant business decisions over which humans have decreasing control.”
To be clear – despite the clickbait headline in its press release – Gartner isn’t warning against a sentient AI uprising. It’s warning that CIOs will have to confront concerns about smart digital automation over the course of the next five years as businesses start relying more and more on “smart machines” to make more important business decisions automatically:
"As smart machines become increasingly capable, they will become viable alternatives to human workers under certain circumstances, which will lead to significant repercussions for the business and thus for CIOs," said Stephen Prentice, vice president and Gartner Fellow. "In the 2015 Gartner CEO and business leader survey, opinions were equally divided on this issue and indicate that business leaders are starting to take notice of the advances being made and more readily acknowledge that the threat to knowledge work is real."
The “threat” isn’t a Skynet apocalypse, but rather the fact that algorithms and AI have the ability to automate tasks to help businesses (including telcos) run more efficiently, whether that’s done via software inside the networks and operational systems, or even robots in the not-too-distant future. A recent paper from the University of Oxford estimates that in the next decade, many mid-skilled, routine-based jobs like telemarketers, tax preparers, insurance underwriters, cashiers and counter clerks could be replaced with digitally automated robots. Which, of course, isn’t going to be well received by all the telemarketers, tax preparers, insurance underwriters, cashiers and counter clerks who suddenly find themselves out of work.
Prentice points out that while technological disintermediation is nothing new – and can in fact be counterbalanced by the creation of new industries that create new jobs, etc – “organizations must balance the necessity to exploit the significant advances being made in the capabilities of various smart machines with the perceived negative impact of resulting job losses.”
On the bright side, Prentice points out that fears of the machines becoming sentient and taking over your business and/or the world are unfounded, at least in terms of current and near-future technology. “Even with the coming generation of smart machines, which actively 'learn' and will be able to adapt their actions to optimize their progress toward a goal, humans can choose to remain in control.”
A more realistic problem, he says, is the vast amounts of data that smart machines are collecting on just about every aspect of everyone’s daily lives, 24/7, with no realistic way to stop it. The threat there is a more familiar and well-established one: the potential reputational damage arising from uncontrolled and inappropriate data collection.
"CIOs should work hard to increase awareness of this issue inside the organization and ensure that the implications of this activity are fully understood and that appropriate controls, processes and procedures are established,” says Prentice.