Smart machines, including those that take over human roles in manufacturing, will have "widespread" and "deep" impact on businesses through 2020, according to Gartner.
In a recent survey, while 60 percent of CEOs believe smart machines capable of absorbing millions of middle-class jobs within 15 years is a "futurist fantasy," the research firm believes that impact will be felt in as little as seven years.
"Most business and thought leaders underestimate the potential of smart machines to take over millions of middle-class jobs in the coming decades," said Kenneth Brant, research director at Gartner. "Job destruction will happen at a faster pace, with machine-driven job elimination overwhelming the market's ability to create valuable new ones."
Gartner analysts say that machines are evolving from automating basic tasks to becoming advanced self-learning systems, and so the next wave of job losses are likely to be from specialist fields as machines take the place of pricey human workers. Brant said:
"There is already a multifaceted marketplace for engineering a 'digital workforce,' backed by major players on both the supply and demand side. This marketplace comprises intelligent agents, virtual reality assistants, expert systems and embedded software to make traditional machines 'smart' in a very specialized way, plus a new generation of low-cost and easy-to-train robots and purpose-built automated machines that could significantly devalue and/or displace millions of humans in the workforce."
Gartner believes that the capability and reliability of smart machines will dramatically increase through 2020 to the point where they will have a major impact on business and IT functions. The impact is expected to be so high that companies which do not consider a digital workforce will become less productive and less competitive in the future.
However, the research firm says that a number of issues are likely to hamper the adoption of a digital workforce. Labor unions, unemployment rates, the failure of early pilot schemes and legislation against the use of smart machines to replace workers are among these factors.
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