back to article IBM's motto is 'Think' – its CEO reckons AI can do that as well as some workers

For decades, IBM's slogan has been a single word: "Think". Now its CEO wants to replace thousands of human workers with AI. Speaking to Bloomberg, CEO Arvind Krishna said he thinks up to 30 percent of IBM's back-office jobs – around 7,800 roles – could be replaced by AI. Krishna said he thinks Big Blue will slow hiring in …

  1. Fabrizio

    I can think of a few people in my company...

    ... that can be replaced by a simple shell script!

    No AI needed as they're incapable of original thinking!

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: I can think of a few people in my company...

      I think IBM have got there already with their CEO

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I can think of a few people in my company...

      if ($age >= 40)




  2. Pete 2 Silver badge

    By the book

    > IBM's slogan has been a single word: "Think"

    When I was employed by one (small) part of the company, thinking was frowned upon. The approved methodology was to follow the process. Not to come up with your own solution.

    1. GruntyMcPugh

      Re: By the book

      Heck thinking was drummed out of people.

      I used to get quite frustrated trying to fix broken processes. I worked in security, and the templates were created in the USA, then automated by a colleague in the UK, he annotated the doc, and it got sent to Poland, where a 'gap' document was created. Problem was, he ticked off stuff he had automated, so when the team in Poland (not technical, not English as a first language) would see clarifying statements in the doc (that of course had not been automated) they added them to the 'gap' document we were supposed to answer manually and add 'is this the case'. I had to complete these and they were scored by a team in India. Explaining to the Indian team that these were not supposed to be questions was really, really hard. They'd been told to follow procedure, so there was a 'question', it had to be answered. My problem was that if an auditor saw the 'question' they'd realise it was complete b*llocks and start digging. So I had to get the documents amended, but that wasn't part of the process, so it was swimming against the tide.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: By the book

        You only really get to see how utterly broken a defined process is when somebody screws something up, and a simple "common sense" change to correct it becomes a case of moving mountains because the defined process is supposed to be followed exactly and variation is subversion.

        1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

          Re: By the book

          When I was running 24-hour support departments, all new process documents had to pass the 3am test before being fully released. If someone can follow the process flawlessly at 3am, it's clear enough for prime-time. Brains do weird things at 3am.


  3. trevorde Silver badge

    IBM Announcement

    After extensive analysis, Arvind Krishna has been replaced by AI because his role does not require any original thinking. And he is too old.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: IBM Announcement

      Everyone with an Indian sounding name is already an AI. They just choose the names so you think: No one has ever heard of him - Oh, he must be from far away. Instead of the truth that he is a shell script with an AI generated ID photo.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "and you base your argument on data"

    ...and you base your argument on data [that proves to management you will make them a fuck-ton of money as opposed to a ton of money]...


  5. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

    Why dont they just fire anybody with a three letter title - that will save millions and nobody will notice

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      CBS (*)... erk!

      * - Chief Bog Scrubber

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "At IBM, one of the key elements of its culture and an important factor in its longevity is its willingness not only to tolerate but to encourage radical thinking,"

    ONLY if it makes them money. If you try this approach to anything else outside of R&D you get slapped down. IBM is all about process.

    If you can fit something into a process, they WILL try and automate it. And that is where your trouble really starts (and it's something the C-Suite just don't seem to comprehend, and not just in IBM). Customers have their own 'processes' to follow. Not all customers look and operate the same. Any automation is therefore different on a per-client basis. Yes, the most common tasks may be automated, but anything more complex is increasingly harder if you try and come up with a 'one size fits all' solution.

    Now add in this. The automation framework is not simply given to the customer. What happens when you part ways? What happens to all that wonderful automation you had that replaced all the workers you used to have that knew how to operate your company? Who do you have that will be able to maintain the automation code you do manage to keep your hands on? What if someone claims intellectual property over that code?

    Also LIFE is not prescriptive. Things change all the time. The more complex automation becomes, the more complex the code, the more you are relying on a SMALL number of people to update that code. That small number of people, do you give them priority providing new features, or simply maintaining functionality for the older code bases? Need a quick fix? Good luck with that (I'm already seeing this issue).

    1. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

      Whats up with American companies pretending they have a culture or are a family ?

      Who treats their family as poorly as American companies treat their employees ?

      1. aerogems Silver badge

        You'd be surprised... in a depressing sort of way.

        1. Notas Badoff

          ↑ This ↑

          I've had glimpses of the "foundation stories" of several coworkers. They didn't grow up with *any* experience of 'normal'. They are still flailing with real life and sometimes we (the bystanders) catch the blows.

          Pick a particularly failing coworker - ask them what number marriage they're in. Or, conversely, ask them how many step-parents they have.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So AK's estimates that 1 back office person will be able to do the work of 1.43 people with the help of AI assistance. If you think about the changes in back office work since moving from paper to computer, it's probably a higher ratio than that. So in the grand scheme of things, the change is not that different than what's gone on before.

    And AI for the back office has yet to proven - there will be plenty of bugs to work out.

    Back office jobs, in general, have been getting outsourced for a while, often abroad. If those jobs were brought back home and people employed to manage the AI doing the work instead, that would be a plus. Less opportunity for PI leakage and fraud as well.

  8. GoldCoaster

    Blig Blue?

    It probably can, but not IBM's AI, they'll need to buy it in from a modern company.

  9. Howard Sway Silver badge

    For decades, IBM's slogan has been a single word: "Think"

    That's just the public one. The full version is "Think how we can get rid of even more staff so we can get a short term share price boost and I can cash in my millions of stock options".

  10. Vincent van Gopher

    Replace workers with AI but . .

    . . have to keep those workers on the books at 50% of their final wage if made redundant. If they get another job that pays a high percentage of what their final salary was then the company would be released from that. Then people that are replaced by technology (that is designed to increase a company's profitability for shareholders or whatever) can decide to retire, do a part-time job, do voluntary work, or find full time employment again if they choose.

  11. Dr Fidget

    Including the CEO?

    First one to be replaced by an AI chatbot (a simple one should suffice) should be the CEO - and probably most, if not all, of the board

    1. spold Silver badge

      Re: Including the CEO?

      The last time I was there they replaced one of the first-level IT help desks with an AI-like system impersonating a real person, you had to get past this to speak to a real person - responses such as "wot" or "yarp" were often useful.

      It wasn't quite what people were used to dealing with, so they gave it an Indian accent because people expected an offshored support outfit - sorted.

      This isn't bull**** I couldn't make this stuff up.

      I'm sure a CEO version is in the works if not already deployed.

    2. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Including the CEO?

      I was actually coming to make a similar comment. What happens when AI comes to replace top executives? I know it makes me less of a good person to be amused by the prospect, but I can live with that.

      Some day I would be genuinely interested to just shadow a CEO of a Fortune 500 company for a typical week. I know we all like to make jokes about how they don't do any actual work, but I'd be interested in seeing what it's like first hand.

  12. andy 103

    AI is bullshit

    sometimes described as "process workers" – folks whose work often requires them to undertake defined activities rather than exercise more abstract thinking.

    Here's the thing. Those people who "undertake defined activities" are actually - far more often than some fucktards on a board would realise - also performing "abstract thinking" or maybe even just "thinking".

    The only reason anyone wants to dumb down such roles is to suggest these people are worth very little especially when it comes to renumeration.

    As a case in point we could have AI cleaners to make sure offices or even homes were spotless. But what happens if, say, a tap is broken? Can this AI cleaner identify that, report it to the right person, see that it gets fixed and then resume their activity? Can they fuck. This is just 1 teeny-tiny example as well. Apply that more broadly and you'll quickly understand why humans are quite underrated.

    The fact that even a single human is being described a "process worker" and somehow doesn't (need to) think is a fucking disgrace.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: AI is bullshit

      There are at least these two sides apparent, now as always, with the application of technology to the workplace: (1) an uninspiring boss who sees workers mainly as a cost and not as an opportunity will see AI only as opportunity to reduce headcount - of course there is a danger here of running into this blindly and causing damage, (2) workers (in the this case the back office workers) use their human smarts to leverage the technology and become more productive, actually spending more of their time using their intelligence handling special cases and making optimizations, and less time acting like a machine.

      The fact that even a single human is being described a "process worker" and somehow doesn't (need to) think is a fucking disgrace.

      But this is not new is it? A worker tries to be helpful and does or says something different and gets swatted down with a hammer - I somehow know you have both seen it and experienced it.

      Has the advent of IT since 1970 increased or decreased the prevalence of opportunities for interesting-for-humans work? It's been good and bad of course - but I feel there is plenty of good in there. I don't see AI as but another unfolding chapter of that book.

      1. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

        Swatted Down for Thinking

        A worker tries to be helpful and does or says something different and gets swatted down with a hammer

        I once suggested, "Let's check all the tire pressures before we head out on this 160-mile road trip across desolate desert country, as there might be a slow leak." After my swat-down, I did not further suggest bringing two quarts of oil, a topo map, a gallon of anti-freeze, two gallons of water and a space blanket per person, a roll of duct tape, a compass, and a tool kit (this was pre-common-cellphone and pre-GPS).

        I did put the personal-survival supplies -- for me -- in my sports bag, and took care not to tell or show anyone what I'd brought.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: AI is bullshit

      "identify that, report it to the right person, see that it gets fixed and then resume their activity?"

      Oh, what an ideal world.

      So there's a leaky tap? Okay. Well I'm supposed to tell my manager but I can't as he's in "the offices" where peons like me don't go. So I tell his underling, who tells me to go tell the maintenance guys (because he just can't be bothered with stuff like that, even if it's his job). So I go tell the maintenance guys. Shortly after the Big Boss calls me into his office. Why did I tell the maintenance people directly? I should respect the chain of command by telling him. What the hell? It's got fuck all to do with him and he wouldn't be interested anyway. He just likes to micromanage everything in sight.

      So, somehow or other the maintenance knows. If it's a C-suite leak, then it will be sorted in minutes. If it's a leak in our part, it gets added to the list of tasks that need done, but since it doesn't directly affect the money maker, it's a low priority job that will get bumped by everything else. It will also be pessimistically assigned some nonsense "duration" (I note they estimated 45 minutes to repair a toilet roll holder (literally one bolt loose); after it kept getting ignored for weeks and eventually fell off the wall I took a socket set in and did it myself (about 1 minute) and told nobody).

      Eventually, maybe, the tap will be fixed. And a little signed card will be stuck to the wall to say it had been done, for a manager to inspect and sign off.

      A few weeks later, the boss of maintenance will ask why I didn't sign the card, how it's not very helpful if I don't play my part. That I'm not a manager and literally have no authority to sign anything doesn't factor into his logic process.

      For the love of God (or any other deity), somebody please replace me with an AI.

      1. Ken G Silver badge

        Re: AI is bullshit

        "You think you've got problems? What are you supposed to do if you are a manically depressed robot? No, don't try to answer that. I'm fifty thousand times more intelligent than you and even I don't know the answer. It gives me a headache just trying to think down to your level."

  13. worldtraveller2

    Now how could that go wrong?

    If you replace people with machines I wonder how an argument I had with a large Utility provider would have played out. I was being billed for a night rate service as was as well as a day rate. Only trouble was the readings for these were exactly the same as I didn't have a dual rate meter. The Utility provider would not believe my protestations that I didn't have a dual rate meter as their records said otherwise, due to a mistake made when my meter was replaced. After many months of getting nowhere I suspended my Direct Debit payment, but even this did not bring them to see any sense with talk of debt collectors being called in to collect the amount outstanding. Through some lateral thinking I managed to get a different department involved who eventually agreed to come a check the meter type and suddenly the records were corrected, I was in credit, and I restarted my direct debits (although the apology was never received).

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