back to article Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean AI's not after you

BT’s chief digital innovation officer wants the world to stop moaning about how cuddly AI is going to put pesky humans out of work because horses "didn't complain" when cars were invented. In an interview with Raconteur this month, Harmeen Mehta, who BT parachuted into the newly created role in 2021, was discussing how media …

  1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Horses *did* protest

    Where do you think the term "neighsayer" came from?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Steve Button Silver badge

        Re: Horses *did* protest

        Perhaps YOUR kids. Mine are a lot smarter than a horse. Which is why they don't work for BT*. ;-)

        I'm sitting here next to a horse field, and those buggers are pretty bloody dumb.

        It's not like cats, where they basically run the house and have humans making everything nice for them. (Or dolphins, or mice. but mainly cats)

        * I joke. Over the past 20+ years I've worked with some of the smartest propellerheads I've ever met at BT up the road in Martlesham.

    2. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Horses *did* protest

      How does the population of horses today compare to that of 1880? I'm guessing 90% down at least!

      1. Steve Button Silver badge

        Re: Horses *did* protest

        I guess that's where Jansen has got it all wrong. Instead of thinking, "Great, with AI we can get rid of a bunch of employees and save money" he should be thinking "Perhaps with AI we can have people doing more interesting things, and take away a lot of the drudgery". If you think of your employees as assets who can add value, because you try to employ the smartest and pay them well to keep them. That's how you GROW the company and make more money, instead of SHRINK the company by shedding people. Although don't go mad with it like the big tech companies did and grow too fast.

        1. AMBxx Silver badge

          Re: Horses *did* protest

          I'm happy to do 90% less work. I'm more concerned about there being 90% less of us and the method of reducing the population!

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Re: Horses *did* protest

            To be honest, I'm not entirely looking forward to being turned into catfood and glue.

            1. MiguelC Silver badge

              Re: Horses *did* protest

              Or lasagna

              (icon - to help washing it down)

            2. parlei Bronze badge

              Re: Horses *did* protest

              Don't you worry, it is just a visit to the veterinarian. You have worked so hard all your life, why should we send you to the knackers in the name of short term profit?

              1. SCP

                Re: Horses *did* protest

                I think their ambulance needs a coat of paint though.

            3. Lurko

              Re: Horses *did* protest

              Neil Barnes: "To be honest, I'm not entirely looking forward to being turned into catfood and glue."

              But you're not entirely rejecting the concept, then. So what product would you like to be made into?

              I think I'd want to be used in some nice quality bone china, maybe a few wallets, and a couple of iPad cases from buttock skin. Meat will be a bit stringy, but big chunks could be fed to Eurasian bears* at any decent British zoo** the bears. My skull would make a great lamp and conversation piece, after the brains and eyeballs have been pureed and secretly added to a vegan meal production line.

              Or of course if you don't like those sorts of applications, there's Body Worlds***.

              * "Look mummy! That one's run off with somebody's arm!"

              ** Not ZSL Whipsnade, who shoot their bears.

              *** The most amazing exhibition ever. Not gruesome, but respectful and educational. If you get the chance, go. Sadly not in the UK at the moment.

        2. fandom

          Re: Horses *did* protest

          "Great, with AI we can get rid of a bunch of employees and save money"


          "Perhaps with AI we can have people doing more interesting things, and take away a lot of the drudgery"

          boil down to exactly the same thing.

          1. robinsonb5

            Re: Horses *did* protest

            > boil down to exactly the same thing.

            They kind of do, but carry very different connotations: The latter implies that those people's basic needs will still be met on some way, shape or form. You could replace "doing more interesting things" with "gently decomposing in preparation for a future of pushing up daisies" and still be consistent with the former.

        3. bpfh

          Re: Horses *did* protest

          You are under the misguided idea that a company has any responsibility to its employees.

          Henry Ford wanted to increase his worker's salaries over the shareholder's dividends to ensure that his employees could buy their own Model T, increasing sales, was taken to court and lost: A company has a responsability to its shareholders. Employees are just an annoying cost that impacts that profit...

      2. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: Horses *did* protest

        Lost a lot of them in WWI. The Cleveland Bay nearly went extinct.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Horses *did* protest

        and there go all our self-generated problems, see? Plenty of space for the 1/10 remainers, clean air, robots making you coffe, etc. Perhaps the bros buying up land and silos in N. Zealand really ARE smarter than the 9/10 of us.

    3. Tom 38

      Re: Horses *did* protest

      I mean, they didn't protest, but they also didn't end up in lush fields frollicking. They were sent to the knackers. Can't do that with people yet.

      1. SusiW

        Re: Horses *did* protest

        "Soylent Green is people."

        Joke. I hope!

  2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    BT announce

    Staff to be sent to glue factory.

    1. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: BT announce

      The horse analogy is excellent. Horses didn't have enough intelligence to have a clue about what the consequences would be either.

      1. abend0c4

        Re: BT announce

        The horse analogy is excellent

        Given she works for BT, I imagine it's a result of being permanently surrounded by long faces.

      2. ITMA Silver badge

        Re: BT announce

        "...didn't have enough intelligence to have a clue about what the consequences would be..."

        That reminds me of the various BT "release" voluntary redundancy schemes BT have ran in the past.

        Successfully "offloaded" high numbers of staff only to have to bring many of them back as highly paid "consultants" because they'd got rid of the ones with all the knowledge and experience.

    2. Snake Silver badge

      Re: To the glue factory with you!

      Then let's start with Mehta herself.

      WHAT the hell is with Indian nationals and their attitudes on workers anyway??! This has to be the, ugh, zillion'th time a boss just dismisses worker concerns, worker health, or even worker lives, as "Oh well, I'll just pick up another slave replacement ASAP!" I wonder (both aloud, and non-PC) if it has anything to do with sect stratification and built-in attitudes on how you treat anyone you don't perceive as looking you level in the eye.

      1. Bebu Silver badge

        Re: To the glue factory with you!

        Looking at contemporary UK (from a afar) one has to wonder whether the subcontinent is getting even for the couple centuries of the Raj. :)

        Horses and automobiles? A rather obvious non sequitur. The introduction of mechanical looms and spinning machine with the violent opposition from those affected (Luddites) might be a more appropriate comparison.

        Recent politcal deparures and this gem make one wonder in which queue they were standing when brains and common sense were being handed out.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I see BT didn't let their standards slip when appointing senior staff. He fits right in.

    1. MiguelC Silver badge

      Harmeen Mehta

      *She* (otherwise, spot on)

  4. goodjudge

    "CEO Philip Jansen said in May: “For a company like BT there is a huge opportunity to use AI to be more efficient"


    "CEO Philip Jansen said in May: “For a board of management like BT there is a huge opportunity to use AI so as to be able to sack lots of costly minions and make more money for the board in share options and bonuses because we met our cost-reduction targets. Long term company future? Who cares. I'm richer than you'll ever be."

  5. ravenviz Silver badge

    “no job is needed” in the future

    Is this like IBM’s assertion that the world will not need more than five computers, or Bill Gates, "640K ought to be enough for anybody”?

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    BT staff would be able to get more sensible answers more quickly if the upper management were replaced by chatbots. They wouldn't get their intelligence insulted regularly by [de]motivational training events. And there'd be less faffing about with disruptive reorganisations every few months.

    Yes, there are lots of opportunities for AI at BT.

    1. Evil Scot

      Are you suggesting that they Dog food this proposal?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Let's be honest, they're not going to set *any* AI live until they've corrupted the model enough that it routinely suggests Benching as the best route forwards

  7. Brian 3

    “I don’t know how horses felt when the car was invented, but they didn’t complain that they were put out of a job; they didn’t go on strike. It’s part of evolution."

    THE HORSES DIDN'T PROTEST BECAUSE THEY WERE SLAUGHTERED. This guy must resign and apologize. Get rid of this inhuman monster before it's too late.

  8. Andy Non Silver badge

    Workers losing their jobs to AI

    is a lifestyle choice. ;-)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Workers losing their jobs to AI

      oof, this sounds like another UK politics reference. Thank goodness that problem was finally dealt with at long last!

  9. Howard Sway Silver badge

    it creates more emotional problems for me than I do for myself

    That's clearly the case if you've reached the stage where you think that horses can talk.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: you think that horses can talk.

      I think you might reasonably think that horses can communicate to some degree. The mad thing here is that he claims to not only understand them sufficiently well, but also that he was able to go back in time and interview them about it. :-)

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: you think that horses can talk.

        "horses can communicate to some degree"

        Throwing the rider off is the second most effective way exceeded only by throwing rider off and rolling on them.

    2. Paul Kinsler

      horses can talk.

      I suppose if you were in charge of Yahoo, rather than working for BT, this belief might be more understandable...?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: horses can talk.

        Well played, sir.

  10. spacecadet66

    It's not so often that you hear a Master Of The Universe admit that he thinks the rest of us are livestock.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      And what is he a Master of? Can I bait you into answering that one?

      ----------> Just in case he ejaculates his response!

  11. Peter2 Silver badge

    Personally, I strongly doubt that Elon Musk has anything more useful to say on AI than anybody else.

    He's simply coming out with pleasing soundbites to ensure that people keeping taking him and his companies seriously, which protects against people questioning why Tesla has a market capitalisation of 733.39 billion. By comparison Ford (which produces EV's which are at least comparable if not better than Tesla's) is nominally worth less than 40 billion despite selling more cars per year than Tesla has ever built in total.

    Just stop quoting the man; he hates people ignoring his irrelevance.

    My view? AI cannot threaten the human race. In extremis, if an AI took over my rack of servers then the worst thing it could do would be take absolute control of everything that was connected to it, deleting all data and displaying "lolz, die meatbag" on my screen. At this point, i'd treat it as a ransomware outbreak and restore from offline backups with the added step of remaining disconnected from the internet and it couldn't do a thing to hurt me.

    The threat to the human race is limited to boring things like starving to death because your supermarket of choice doesn't have adequate backups to revert to manual function for things like shipping food, and have their only backups "in the cloud" and this is quite easy to guard against with a combination of legislation, inspections and testing.

    The other threat is the modern habit of connecting things that can actually interact with the outside world (like for instance Mr Musk's Tesla cars) to the internet and entrusting the on/off switch to software.

    Software which is designed to be remotely modified via the internet and so could (in extremis) be programmed to go crashing into things, or people. It's also worth noting that I suspect that the fuse for the AI stuff is probably located under the bonnet, and i'd be surprised on a Tesla if you don't have to ask the software to open the bonnet for you. (and please hold still and don't run me over while i'm doing it)

    This sort of thing is trivially simple to guard against; instead of having an on/off switch in software then insist on a hardware switch, or better a physical token that has to be present in the circuit for operation. You could call it a "key".

    This has an additional benefit of needing something more than a laptop to steal the car.

    1. ravenviz Silver badge

      “ remaining disconnected from the internet and it couldn't do a thing to hurt me”

      Until, you see an AI drone hovering outside your window…

    2. cmdrklarg

      "Tesla has a market capitalisation of 733.39 billion."

      To be fair Tesla isn't just a car company. They are also in the energy business with solar roofs, Powerwalls, and Megapacks, plus charging infrastructure as well. Whether it should be worth that much is debatable, but comparing Tesla to Ford isn't quite apples to apples.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        To be fair Tesla isn't just a car company. They are also in the energy business with solar roofs, Powerwalls, and Megapacks, plus charging infrastructure as well. Whether it should be worth that much is debatable, but comparing Tesla to Ford isn't quite apples to apples.

        No, not quite.

        Ford Revenue: $158 billion.

        Tesla Revenue: $81 billion

        Ok, let's value the car side of Tesla as being worth $40 billion (ie; more than Ford), despite producing a small fraction of the number of cars. Then let's value the energy business with the solar roof as being worth $40 billion which is just absurd, then the powerwall separately as being worth $40 billion which is equally absurd and then then the megapacks as being the same amount which again is absurd. That's $160 billion. Then let's add another $70 billion for the value of Musks hot air, and it's still overvalued by over $500 billion; that's over half a trillion.

        Objectively, Tesla's valuation is in the same league as the South Sea Bubble, Tulipmania, the dot com bubble, and FTX.

        1. bpfh

          And netflix

          Their recent stock crash due to losing a few hundred thousand subscribers was equal to the full monthly subscription cost of those lost users for I believe 91 years.

          Investment has gone from investment to betting.

          Inb4 NFT!

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: And netflix

            Investment has gone from investment to betting.

            yes and no.

            Warren Buffet for instance amassed a huge fortune by seeing things that he thought were undervalued and then putting his money into them until he thought they were overvalued relative to something else, at which point he'd sell shares off and buy something else.

            He's playing an entirely different game to the people who are gambling on whatever being "the next big thing" because everybody is talking about it, despite the underlying fundamentals not actually making any sense whatsoever.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Quote: "...Elon Musk delivered a chilling verdict earlier this month when he said “no job is needed” in the future..."

    Really? No waiters in fancy restaurants? No "escorts" to "accompany" lonely people? No tennis players at Wimbledon? .....and so on......

    In the England of 1600AD there were about five million people living near subsistence.

    In England in 2023 there are more than 50 million people....ALL those 50 million are living better than their 1600AD ancestors!!

    Technology may have caused significant chaos during times of change........but technology, in the long run, NEVER PUT ANYONE OUT OF WORK!

    Elon Musk......pah!!!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ALL those 50 million are living better than their 1600AD ancestors

      Hmmmm. Someone doesn't look outside very often......

  13. John H Woods Silver badge


    As a horsey person...

    I can thoroughly recommend Ulrich Rauff's beautiful book "Farewell to the Horse: The Final Century of Our Relationship" to anyone who is interested in this bit of history.

    Also let me know if you want to buy a two star Eventer.

  14. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    What a dumbf**k!

    Do horses have jobs? Or was he referring to the farriers and the saddlers and the stable managers and the veterinarians and the many other jobs that supported the use of horses for transport? Yes, jobs evolve and change over time and "AI" is not going to be any different assuming that the people coming through our education system right now are getting what they need to support the "AI" systems of the future, but jobs for less educated but never the less skilled people are going to be automated out of existence by "AI" so what are all those who failed their O-Levels and dropped out of school going to do? We have lost a lot of our manufacturing so where those people going to get an apprenticeship to learn a skill so that they can earn a living and contribute to society and our economy? Or did the dumbf**k in his ivory executive tower forget all about such people?

  15. fnusnu

    They just became a leisure activity. Like a load of IT people are about to find out...

  16. HMcG

    "some (jobs) will no longer be needed”.

    I can think of one recently created job at BT that could go without adversely affecting BT's future...

  17. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    I'd call her an ignotant cow...

    but I don't want to insult cows.

  18. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Re: That Heavenly Alien Space Place Hells on Earth Try to Deny You.

    First of all, an admission to make. The following three paragraphs are not yet, as far as I am aware, being considered by BT and its chief digital innovation officer, Ms Harmeen Mehta, as a suitable case for private company and public utility engagement and furthering augmenting treatment, but that can easily change in an instant.

    In worlds of many myriad complicating problems there is always the one simple final NEUKlearer solution choice to make and take .... you're either with leading AI and IT or you are not, and against all those competing for radical and fundamental existential changes in opposition to petrified and stagnant status quo positions.

    The Bottom Line [Unexpurgated] ...... Does Humanity want to create difficulties resulting in the waging of wars to be constantly and consistently lost delivering every battling side and supporter great suffering together with the unseemly transfer to innocent non-combatants of unwelcome collateral damage associated with never-ending future losses to be paid at horrendous cost from funds and bondholders that don't currently exist, and can never ever be freely, legitimately, non-magically raised and paid, or do you think the hapless natives/resident species deserve better and a great deal more from what is now possible, ready for launching and freely universally available, with no ifs, buts or maybes to scupper ITs AI Program of Human Programming Projects?

    Who/what would get your vote whenever those are the two market protagonists? Who/what is more than just likely to extremely quickly win win with failsafe results whenever any real time live, present day, virtualised 0day contest pits IBMs v SIMs [Ignorant Barbaric Morons v SMARTR IntelAIgent Machinery] for AIMastery of Future Almighty Earthly Command in Fully Remote Absolute Control of Practically Everything and Virtually Anything ‽ .

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    they didn’t complain that they were put out of a job; they didn’t go on strike.

    Napoleon is always right.


    I will work harder.

    1. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

      Re: they didn’t complain that they were put out of a job; they didn’t go on strike.

      Great news Boxer! your oats ration has been increased to 2 lbs a day...

  20. breakfast Silver badge

    Chilling prospect

    The idea of a world where nobody has to have a job should not be a chilling one, but it is because not having a job means being homeless and starving. If companies are determined to replace us with AI then we need to find ways to make life for those without jobs comfortable and enjoyable, seeing as that will presumably be most of us sooner or later.

    The starting point from that should be taxing the heck out of the companies making the AI that is replacing people, to the point that for every job lost they're paying for at least two people to live comfortably. They'll complain that this is starving innovation but it's not, it's innovating in a different direction.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A BT spokesperson sent us a statement:

    "Chatgpt, generate a 2-paragraph statement to backpedal on that inteview quote and present what she said as a positive development, with references to BT Group"

  22. codejunky Silver badge


    He has a point. We are not standing in a muddy field for our grub. We are not stuck in factories. We dont have roads full of horse manure and have a very comfortable way of life of improving services even with some people trying to take us to the dark ages

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hmm

      even with some people trying to take us to the dark ages

      People' should stop having a go at Suella. It wasnt her fault and shes decided to make a new lifestyle choice.

  23. Cyberian

    BT could also...

    Replace all their employees with jobs titled "C[ETIOF]O" with AI.

    Imagine the short and long term savings the company will enjoy...

  24. jlturriff

    '...horses "didn't complain" when cars were invented.' Maybe not, but in the ensuing years, a lot of them were sent to the glue factory.

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