IBM CEO Says Automation Won’t Decimate Job Market

Date: 07-10-2015
Source: The Wall Street Journal

IBM has formed a new business unit to advise companies on using its Watson artificial-intelligence software

Rometty CCIBM CEO Virginia Rometty

ORLANDO, Fla.—The rise of cognitive technology, or machines that can approximate the way people think, will lead to big changes in how people work and in the economy itself, International Business Machines Corp. CEO Virginia Rometty said Tuesday.

“This is not about replacing people. It is about augmenting what man does…this helps us do things we couldn’t do,” Ms. Rometty said Tuesday at the Gartner Symposium, a gathering of CIOs and business technology professionals.

IBM made news today with the announcement of a new 2,000-person consulting unit, the Cognitive Business Solutions Group, that will help businesses make use of Watson , a decision-support platform the company hopes to apply to a range of industries such as health care. The thesis is that there’s too much information for even a well-educated professional in health or law or just about any area to master, and the artificial intelligence and other algorithms at the heart of Watson can provide answers far more quickly than can the human mind.The prospect of technology-driven job destruction is a matter of great debate for many scientists, technologists, and economists, some of whom predict massive losses in the labor market. In the past, new technology has destroyed jobs and created new ones, but some experts wonder if the increasing power of information technology will leave relatively less and less for people to do.

“The economic challenge of the future will not be producing enough. It will be providing enough good jobs,former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers argued last year in The Wall Street Journal. “Technology is allowing the production of far more output with far fewer people.”

Ms. Rometty isn’t among the doomsayers. “Eventually, everyone will have some skills around data science and data. It will change the way we educate people. You begin to create whole new sets of jobs. I see that with utility workers. I see that in all different kinds of ways…Individual jobs become richer,” she said.

That isn’t to say what IBM refers to as cognitive technology won’t lead to massive changes. Cognitive technology “changes the basis of economic competition,” she said.

In the near future, all businesses will be digital, and cognitive technology will provide a basis for competitive advantage, as companies figure out new ways to take advantage of it, according to Ms. Rometty. “Digital is necessary, but not sufficient. Once you are digital, this is how you differentiate,” she said. “It will scale expertise…it will change the way you engage with customers. It will change processes. I see this as very differentiating. Everyone who has lived through disruption, I think is ready to be the disrupter. I think this allows you to take the lead.”

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