Infosys has hired 10,000 fewer employees in the past 12 months, just as it was bringing AI on line.

The single largest point of contention about AI is whether it will lead to a decline in employment. The discourse on this topic falls pretty steeply into two groups: the AI pessimists (like me, and a long list of others) who believe AI will erode the livelihood of all manner of workers, including highly paid, creative, and well-educated professionals.

AI optimists believe the contrary, generally arguing that we, people, have always adapted to new technologies by finding new sorts of work. For example, when computers were invented, some sorts of work were supplanted by computers, while others were created, like programming.

However, AI is a different story, since it is an emulation of human intelligence, and not replacing human physical power, or rote crunching of data.

I am always looking for evidence to shed light on this question.

Pravin Rao, the Chief Operating Officer of the technology consulting and IT services firm Infosys, recently was interviewed by the Australian Financial Review’s Michael Balley. Rao stated that AI is already impacting the company’s hiring, directly leading to 10,000 fewer new hires in 2016–17. And he projects this is not a one-time adjustment:

Our industry’s growth is down a bit too, hence the lower number, but we do think the big investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning we’ve made in the last two years means our number of new recruits will be below 10,000 a year from now on, at least for the foreseeable future” Mr Rao said.

Although Rao stated that the company has trained 160,000 of its 200,000 staff in design thinking, and was redeploying those ‘relieved’ from the repetitive, manual work they had been tasked with formerly.

We’ll have to see how this plays out in the comping years, and the company rolls out even more capable AI, such as their next generation AI, called Nia, released in April. Nia, says Bally,

can assist with more complex business problems, such as forecasting revenues and what products need to be built, understanding customer behaviour, deeply understanding the content of contracts and legal documents, understanding compliance, and fraud.

Rao closed the interview by showing his AI optimist stripes:

“Things get automated and we move on to new things, it’s been happening for all of human history,” he said.

Meanwhile, 10,000 fewer workers were hired in 2016–2017, and Infosys’ Rao says his industry’s growth is slowing overall. Maybe their customers are deploying AI in house, as well?

Related Research

A recent PwC report based on surveying 10,000 people across the UK, Germany, China, India and the US reveals some interesting trends in people’s perceptions of AI:

  • The majority believe technology will improve their job prospects (65%), with workers in US (73%) and India (88%) more confident, and those in the UK (40%) and Germany (48%) less so.
  • 73% believe technology will never replace the human mind.
  • 86% believe human skills will always be in demand.

However, AI is casting a shadow:

  • 37% of respondents believe automation is putting their job at risk, up from 33% in 2014.
  • 56% think governments should protect jobs from automation, by regulation or other means.

I’m predicting government restrictions on AI will be a political issue in 2020, if not before.

Jon Williams of PwC said,

Anxiety kills confidence and the willingness to innovate. With a third of workers worried about the future of their jobs due to automation, employers need to be having mature conversations now, to include workers in the technology debate. This will help them to understand, prepare and potentially upskill for any impact technology may have on their job in the future. The shift is nothing less than a fundamental transformation in the way we work, and organisations must not underestimate the change ahead.

Regardless of when, or if, this shift will happen, the fear is real.

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