PhotoSome really smart people have warned that humans are playing with fire when they develop more advanced machines and robots. Scientist Stephen Hawking says developing full artificial intelligence (AI) “could spell the end of the human race.” Entrepreneur Elon Musk says AI is “our biggest existential threat.”

But these warnings have done little to slow the rapid pace of AI development. Wired magazine reports a British supermarket chain is developing humanoid robots that may be able to understand and help humans in real time.

Rise of the robots

Should people with jobs be concerned about the rise of robots? After all, you don't have to pay these guys overtime. In fact, you don't have to pay them at all.

“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 (chief investment officers),” said Stephen Prentice, vice president and Gartner Fellow.

A new report from Gartner, Inc., suggests the business world has already taken notice of this emerging trend. The community is divided, the report finds, between those who welcome the trend and those who are worried about what it means to the human work force.

As we have previously reported, robots have been deployed for years in one form or another. Robots not only help put vehicles together on the auto assembly line, they help consumers check out faster at the supermarket.

Widely deployed in multiple roles

“As smart machines become more capable, and more affordable, they will be more widely deployed in multiple roles across many industries, replacing some human workers. This is nothing new,” Prentice said. “The deployment of new technology has eliminated millions of jobs over the course of history.”

But the report also notes that new technologies have also produced millions of new jobs over that time. Prentice says the issue isn't exactly cut and dried.

“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,” he said.


Over the next five years, the report predicts that smart machines will start making more key business decisions, leading some to fear that they may become “unstoppable” or run out of control. Prentice, for one, doesn't seem that worried.

“Within the confines of currently known technology, the idea of machines attaining some level of ’self-awareness,’ ’consciousness’ or ’sentience’ is still the stuff of science fiction,” he said. “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.”

That's a way of saying managers' jobs are relatively safe, even if the rank and file perhaps should be looking over their shoulders.

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