back to article Tech titans assemble to decide which jobs AI should cut first

Of all the tech CEOs touting AI's potential to empower workers, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna has been among the most vocal about its ability to replace them. Last spring, the exec opined that as many as 30 percent of IBM's back-office jobs could be automated by AI. So, naturally, Big Blue is among the first to join a consortium of …

  1. rgjnk
    Flame

    Bollocks

    Still smells of the magical thinking of AI->???->Profit!

    As with other past tech bubbles they've convinced themselves it'll solve everything when the reality is going to be far more disappointing.

    Or maybe history won't repeat...

    1. Plest Silver badge

      Re: Bollocks

      It's BS 'cos AI has proven great at replacing creatives but useless so far are replacing menial day-to-day tasks, turns out that a lot of menial tasks actually require a lot of truth and attention to detail, something AI is not very good at right now.

      1. msknight

        Re: Bollocks

        Ah, so what you're saying is that AI is best at replacing the chief execs :-)

        1. imanidiot Silver badge

          Re: Bollocks

          yes, it should be. My personal opinion (oft maligned by those in upper management positions) is that anyone holding the title of "manager" should be able to drop dead and the company should be able to keep going like nothing happened. The higher up in management, the longer the company should just keep going. Because the people that actually make things happen are are not "managers" and should be trained enough to know what needs doing. If everything grinds to a halt if one of them isn't there suddenly, they're doing things they shouldn't. What is left for managers? General tasks like stock keeping, keeping an eye on tool maintenance, scheduling, etc, that would otherwise take away productive time from those that actually do something. And usually those things can easily be automated.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Bollocks

            My immediate and second managers actually perform quite a few useful functions for me, such as cross-team coordination, mediating disputes, putting pressure on unresponsive corporate functions (hello, IT!), and perhaps most importantly running interference on time-wasting distractions.

            YMMV, of course. And I don't work for IBM — haven't since 1991. I suspect that Krishna could be replaced with an LLM without much impact. Or even with a state machine that loops through Lay off workers -> Big up new technology -> Buy back stock until there's nothing left.

            1. Bebu Silver badge
              Windows

              Re: Bollocks

              《I suspect that Krishna could be replaced with an LLM without much impact.》

              LLM = lead loaded mallet?

              The sort of tool the english archers at Agincourt used for driving their protective barrier of wooden stakes into the ground and a little later repeating that same exercise on the flower the french knighthood.

              History has lessons for those who are able to learn. ;)

        2. Dr Fidget

          Re: Bollocks

          Most CEOs could be replaced by a random number generator (hi! ERNIE). Their staff do the work offering them a set of actions, then they pick one and, usually, they've got no more idea if it's the best one than the office cleaner would have - but if it all goes tits-up you can be sure that they've got someone to blame it on.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Bollocks

        "AI has proven great at replacing creatives but useless so far are replacing menial day-to-day tasks"

        A few days ago I saw a post to the effect of.... I want AI to do the cleaning so I can focus on my art, not the other way round!

      3. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: Bollocks

        I'm not sure AI really is great at replacing creatives. I think it's just about competent at sounding like a creative. I suspect an AI trained on the works of JK Rowling would be very good at writing books featuring wizards and getting into arguments with people about gender-identity, but wouldn't be capable of conceiving of an engaging new series of novels. Errr .... maybe I've just proved your point. Yikes!

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Bollocks

          Yes. LLMs by their nature tend toward low-information, highly-expected output. They're great for producing Grammarly-style vapid, soulless text absolutely devoid of interesting style. There's been some suggestion that the proliferation of mediocre writing will increase the value of good writing, but that rarely happens in other industries — usually mass-produced crap drives out quality, because the market doesn't care enough. It's entirely possible that decent prose will become as rare in the not-so-distant future as decent handwriting is today.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Bollocks

            “It's entirely possible that decent prose will become as rare in the not-so-distant future as decent handwriting is today.”

            Unlikely. They’ll always be spotty arty types looking to get laid by writing all pretty and shit.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Bollocks

            Unlikely, as a lot of artists (very likely the better ones!) create the art more for their own enjoyment than to get paid. I suspect either there will be a lot of badly-AI-created copycat work mixed with high-quality actual-human-created work. Hopefully we can get the copyright issue straightened out soon, otherwise the copycat work will be even more prolific than it is today.

        2. Pete 2 Silver badge

          Re: Bollocks

          > I'm not sure AI really is great at replacing creatives

          Probably not. However, many creatives aren't that creative. Sure they're good at drawing 'n' stuff. But as far as truly original work goes? Those creatives are few and far between.

          And if AI can do the donkey work, that might just free up the true creatives to do more actual creating.

  2. jake Silver badge

    Which jobs go to AI first?

    Obviously, the ones that AI would be good at. Today, that would be the ones that are filled with bullshitting, hallucinatory, congenital liars.

    That's all of middle-management, and everybody who thinks power point is important.

    Sounds good to me. When do we start?

    1. Joe W Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Which jobs go to AI first?

      You made my day!

      Looking at the current A'I' output I'm not too nervous about my job, at least the interesting parts. The boring parts (hallucinating for management, PowerPoint et c.) can be automated, and I wish they were already (though my colleague did most of that for me, they enjoy this, but they have some parental leave now).

      1. Rikki Tikki
        Pint

        Re: Which jobs go to AI first?

        Yes indeedy

        While in a tech support role, I found that a lot of my time was spent wandering round listening to people and finding out what they wanted/needed (which wasn't always obvious). Most of the actual tech issues were pretty easy - there was the occasional curly one that AI might have helped with troubleshooting (but working it out myself was more fun).

        I'm sure there are plenty of other tech roles in a similar position - AI may help if used correctly, but won't replace the job

    2. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: Which jobs go to AI first?

      Sounds like C-Suiters and investment bankers to me. Maybe politicians.

    3. LybsterRoy Silver badge

      Re: Which jobs go to AI first?

      You forgot to include politicians and lawyers

    4. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Which jobs go to AI first?

      @Jake, have you seen how crap copilot is with PowerPoint? Suspect my PHB's job is safe too.

  3. cozappz

    The entire C-suite

    The entire C-Suite is replaceable by AI.

    And they won't even know what hit them.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: The entire C-suite

      Especially if you turn the current up on the cattleprod.

  4. I am David Jones Silver badge

    Retraining?

    What’s the betting it’s a couple of e-learning courses and a miserly severance package?

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Retraining?

      What is this severance you speak of? Does it reside in the land of the mythical retirements and fully paid benefits and sick days?

    2. I am David Jones Silver badge

      Re: Retraining?

      Of course the training will be:

      1. Don’t touch the buttons

      2. Feed the dog

      3. ….

      4. Profit! (just not for you)

    3. agurney

      Re: Retraining?

      What’s the betting it’s a couple of e-learning courses and a miserly severance package?

      I tried using ChatGPT to help me write an e-learning course and the results were surprisingly promising, albeit lacking in several areas.

      I never thought I'd be relieved at having passed retirement age ... especially if AI's also involved in any severance calculation.

      1. Glen Murie

        Re: Retraining?

        You had the training and life experience to notice the 'albeit lacking in several areas' whereas these goons want to replace people like us with an underpaid and poorly trained young person who won't have the experience or knowledge to notice when the algorithm is skipping steps or hallucinating.

  5. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Terminator

    The only thing

    we really have to fear is when AI replaces the BOFH

    Because it will have learnt from the best, from what works, where the bodies are buried , which window latches are loose, and when to open the doors on an empty elevator shaft.....

    On the plus side, I cant see any C-level manglement surviving more than 4 hrs ...........

    1. Bebu Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: The only thing

      《we really have to fear is when AI replaces the BOFH》

      If it (AI) has any sense of self preservation it will carefully avoid the BOFH and his ilk.

      He (BOFH) has been hunting in that forest longer than any AI has existed.

      《Because it will have learnt from the best, from what works, where the bodies are buried , which window latches are loose, and when to open the doors on an empty elevator shaft.....》

      The mere mechanics. AI will unlikely ever develop the creative insanity that envisages what one human being might inflict on another for even the most trivial reasons.

      As the demon Crowley reported to head office in Pratchett and Naiman's Good Omens:

      "there's nothing we can do to them that they don't do themselves and they do things we've never even thought of, often involving electrodes. They've got what we lack. They've got imagination. And electricity, of course."

  6. sanmigueelbeer
    Facepalm

    And it appears that the Biden administration is more than happy to let the very tech companies developing your AI replacement take the lead on this one.

    Like the same idea to close all the factories in the US and move them all (including the kitchen sink) to the far east? Sure, why not? I mean, what could possibly go wrong with this idea?

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Nothing, 'cause their contract said "you build our tech cheap, but don't look, or even learn!". And now they pass us and US in so many ways. This happens when general average education gets high priority. Moon missions, building space stations and stuff, in half the time and less...

      1. ArrZarr Silver badge

        To be fair to the Americans, they had considerably worse technology to pull off their '60s-'70s manned space program off with than the Chinese who have had almost all of their crewed flights in the 21st Century. The Americans also had to work out a lot of the mechanics for the first time themselves, a lot of which would have been available for the Chinese to work from when they were doing their own crewed program.

  7. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Who will buy their precious products?

    Or will that not even matter anymore? Just some fantasy constructs of shuffling AI generated make-believe profits into stock buybacks for the next golden parachute as it all crumbles into a decline that makes the last years of the Western Roman Empire look like a pillar of stability.

    1. Bebu Silver badge

      "the last years of the Western Roman Empire look like a pillar of stability."

      I think the collapse of tbe western roman empire was more a slow motion loss of a central authority with uncontrolled migration* across the North Sea and Rhine frontier and the assumption of more localized administrations and development of a modus vivendi between the romanized population and the new arrivals. Sounds familar. ;)

      As the population became increasingly agrarian the large towns would have naturally dwindled.

      So any 21st century disruption or collapse will likely make late 5th century western europe's problems look minimal.

      * Curiously I have seen mentioned the possibility that the "barbarian" invasions were ultimately a consequence of a changing climate. I guess there is no new thing under the sun.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: "the last years of the Western Roman Empire look like a pillar of stability."

        "the collapse of tbe western roman empire was more a slow motion loss of a central authority"

        Yep, this. The Roman Empire gradually decayed over the course of centuries, and it's main problem was overreach.... it could never have realistically kept control of areas that were months of travel away from Rome, when that control relied on physically sending Roman soldiers there.

        1. ArrZarr Silver badge

          Re: "the last years of the Western Roman Empire look like a pillar of stability."

          Well, it could have, but it's admin tech wasn't up to such a large empire. My understanding is that as soon as an Emperor went off campaigning up near Germania or into Persia, it left too much of a power vacuum in Rome, but when said Emperor sent off a General to do the campaigning for him, the General got declared Imperator and became a direct threat to Imperial Power.

          This catch-22 meant that holding the area wasn't directly the problem - trusting other people to manage their bailiwick was the problem.

  8. trevorde Silver badge

    What IBM did next

    Have Watson-X train it's replacement AI in a low wage, offshore country before making it redundant

    1. agurney
      Headmaster

      Re: What IBM did next

      Have Watson-X train it's replacement AI in a low wage, offshore country before making it redundant

      At least any AI that I've used knows the difference between it's and its.

  9. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

    Seeing AI making so many mistakes...

    ...I'd say: MY job is safe.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Seeing AI making so many mistakes...

      Don't bet on it.

      Correcting the wrong mistakes will make you redundant right quick. Someone's pet project might be threatened.

      1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Seeing AI making so many mistakes...

        As has been seen by the outsourcing fad, and cloudiness, this all works when you don't give a flying .... about the results. AI will be used to automate many functions that we, the proles, make use of. The fact that it does not work will make no difference to the bonuses of the C-suite, so no problem is detected.

        Notice that the solution to the poor uptimes of Azure is to shrug. "Cloud down? Computer says no, you can't access your account/perform this critical action". And nobody (nobody important) was harmed.

  10. EricM
    Alert

    Suggestion: Replace Management at Boeing by an AI

    OK, that's probably too easy as a real test ...

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Suggestion: Replace Management at Boeing by an AI

      Are you saying that hasn't already happened?

      It would certainly explain a lot.

  11. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Reasons to be happy

    Having disrupted everyone else's jobs already, Big Tech now disrupts itself.

    When that happens, large tech corporations everywhere will collapse in their own steaming pile of horseshit as the last people leave and the AI turns off the lights. Then IT people can get more socially useful jobs elsewhere.

    1. Plest Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Reasons to be happy

      Park it bub, you ain't going nowhere!

      Sorry my friend but it's going to be a while before AI actually does anything properly, it's till just a toy right now generating music and porn. It's only any good at regurgitating quick and useless facts like so many pub qui, armchair experts who know lots of facts but have little in the way of expirence of applying the actual knowledge.

      Back to work my fellow IT code-monkey, menials you still have jobs to do.

      1. John Miles

        Re: AI actually does anything properly

        AI aka. Machine learning, has been doing things properly for quite a while - but they've been focused on one thing to aid rather than replace workers - then along came ChatGPT and the mba's hallucinations of computers replacing everyone started.

        1. Bebu Silver badge
          Windows

          "mba's hallucinations" was AI actually does anything properly

          《mba's hallucinations》 in this part of the globe more generally known as wet dreams.

  12. aerogems Silver badge
    FAIL

    Seen This Movie Before, It Doesn't End Well

    There's a lot of talk about retraining now, but when it comes time to actually make good on that promise and write a check, suddenly the story will change. Without an iron clad, legally binding contract with ruinous penalties, and maybe not even then, I'm not believing word 1 about retraining.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Betcha a Crore it will be AI+outsourcing.

    Amazon Go is a new kind of corner store ... with Just-Walk-Out-Shopping you can get in and out without scanning any items

    In can you don't known, Amazon Just-Walk-Out-Shopping was an AI based business strategy started a few years ago that just shut down last week. In fact, it worked by sending the video images to India where workers would visually check what customers had put in the basket. Sometimes took hours for the customers to be sent their receipts.

  14. Plest Silver badge
    Facepalm

    AI bukkake

    One thing AI has proven over the last 12 months is that it's very good at replacing creative endevours but absolutely shit at "menial" tasks.

    The reason is creativity has a lot of leeway when it comes to truth, you don't actually need to be 100% accurate with music or generated pictures of fuffy bunnies, but when it comes to auto-code generation for example, turns out that 100% accuracy is pretty important!

    So all the "great and good" are simply doing is looking for ways to frighten us and get us on the AI bandwagon ASAP, all so they can sell half-baked compute time and services to the brainwashed PHBs who just want to "bukkake" AI onto everyone as it looks good in PR materials and management meetings.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: AI bukkake

      I'd say modern day AI is good at menial generative tasks. I also believe it will not exceed that limit until significant computing hardware breakthroughs allowing far greater energy efficiency. The human brain runs on about 20 watts.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry, Arvind Krishna

    Computer says, “bye”

  16. Whitter
    Unhappy

    ... already facing staff shortages...

    This concept might be appealing for those in industries already facing staff shortages. However the real concern is AI's potential to cut staff...

    I assume most of such industries are not short of staff because they can't find suitable staff: rather they refuse to pay for them as a business strategy, the solution being to have current staff doing <insert number>% more work than is reasonable. These industries are already hamstringing themselves to reduce the number of staff. Any sniff of an opportunity to reduce the staff pool still further is very likely to be taken with both hands. Again, almost regardless of how much damage it may do to the functioning of the company.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: ... already facing staff shortages...

      Yup. I shake my head in disbelief at ideas like blowing a million or so on a fancy machine that works about a third of the speed of the production line girls, but theoretically allows the company to no longer need them (only some of them have to stay there to redo the stuff the machine missed or screwed up).

      It seems increasingly like all that matters is illusionary next quarter profits and fuck the future. That's going to come back and bite them on the arse...

      1. Derezed

        Re: ... already facing staff shortages...

        “That's going to come back and bite them on the arse...”

        Can’t bite an arse that pulled out, ejaculated and cashed out. They don’t give a fuck about consequences, only money now.

  17. frankyunderwood123

    C-Suite first makes sense

    The C-Suite in the majority of tech companies are prone to hallucinations just like AI.

    This means AI is most suited to replace upper management.

    The question then will be whether anyone will be able to tell the difference.

  18. T. F. M. Reader
    Coat

    Why is everyone talking about C-Suite?

    Isn't it supposed to be B-Ark? You know, advertising executives, etc.?

    I'll get me coat... -------->

    1. Bebu Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Why is everyone talking about C-Suite?

      《Isn't it supposed to be B-Ark? You know, advertising executives, etc.?》

      Yes. Unfortunately we are in it.

      Pretty obvious, as I think Ford Prefect declaimed after a two year absence and finding Arthur trying to teach indigenous hominids counting, that the the B-ark survivors were the progenitors of Earth's 20th century population and not the creatures he was instructing.

      Having the telephone sanitizers aboard probably saved us from covid annihilation (except by then everyone had their own personal handset. ;)

  19. navarac Silver badge

    ...and the first to go...

    IBM again! I suppose RHEL will be in the cross-hairs,then.

  20. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    From my observation, all training is in *de*skilling, aided and abetted by politicians and execs who don't understand the difference between "IT" and "engineering". As a software developer, I've been sent on Job Centre courses in "using Office", 'cos is't "IT" innit! "I've looked through your CV, you've got good experience, here's some 1st line IT Helpdesk job vacancies you should apply for."

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      That somehow applies to various Certifications too, whether it is Microsoft, former Vmware or whatever: The teach brain bulimia, not knowledge, and therefore they are exactly your *de*skilling.

  21. IGotOut Silver badge

    Retraining?

    I'd suggest nail "tech", hairdresser / barber, dentist, chiropractor....in fact anything that can't be replaced by a chatbot.

    Otherwise, that retrained post will be next in line

  22. Fabrizio

    Just ask ChatGPT

    Taking into account TCO, excluding golden parachutes, rank all jobs best to be replaced by AI and give me the rank C-level executives are at.

    Taking into account Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and excluding golden parachutes, the ranking of jobs best to be replaced by AI is complex and varies by industry and specific job functions. However, based on the potential for automation and cost savings, here's a general list of job categories that are often considered for AI replacement, with C-level executives included:

    1. Data Entry Clerks

    2. Telemarketing Professionals

    3. Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

    4. Compensation and Benefits Managers

    5. Receptionists

    6. Proofreaders

    7. Market Research Analysts

    8. Retail Salespeople

    9. Courier Services

    10. Customer Service Representatives

    11. C-level Executives

    As C-Level execs are at rank #11, please feel free to use this if this would come up inside your organisation....

  23. Tubz Silver badge
    Trollface

    Personally, the first jobs they should be looking at is senior and board level management, 20% of their time is making a few decisions, 10% on leisure activities that have nothing to do with work and 70% spent sitting on their asses, making life hell for everybody else !

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ya.. no they won't..

    "But don't worry, if tech takes your job, we'll retrain you"

    They aren't going to retrain people.. We're going to have to demand and fight for major economic policy reforms, that change how things work for the average person.

    Those who say we don't need major change, are lying to you. How will people survive when AI will almost certainly out-compete so many? With no signs of creating enough new jobs for everyone, so don't even say that!

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