Artificial intelligence and professional roles

Tredinnick, Luke (2016) Artificial intelligence and professional roles. Business Information Review, 34 (1). pp. 37-41. ISSN 1741-6450


2017 promises to be the year that artificial intelligence (AI) moves out of film and fiction and into the workplace. While automation has become commonplace in retail and services, from the ubiquitous uptake of automatic tills to the growing influence intelligent service agents, anxiety about the impact of AI on professional roles has been gradually increasing in popular discourse. Writing in the Guardian in December 2016 theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking warned that “the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining” (Hawking, 2016). A report in the Telegraph has warned that “many middle-class professionals will be outsourced to machines within the next few decades” (Knapton, 2016). Automation - once the preserve of manufacturing - is threating to overtake the professional and managerial classes.

Anxieties about the impact of AI on professional jobs are not new. Half a century ago the father of modern computing Alan Turing predicted “great opposition from the intellectuals who were afraid of being put out of a job” and added that “once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers (1951: 475). At some stage, Turing argued, “we should have expect the machines to take control” (1951: 475). Although we are not yet at that stage, it seems inevitable that AI will have a significant impact on professional jobs over the next few decades, and may even perhaps threaten the very existence of numerous professional fields. This coming social and economic transformation has become known as the fourth industrial revolution; following on from the ages of steam, electricity, and information technology, the age of automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence is almost upon us.

But what is artificial intelligence, in what kinds of areas is it currently being exploited, and what is coming in the near future? This special edition of Out-of-the-Box explores the emerging area of Artificial Intelligence, automation and machine learning in business and professional contexts. It will review the current state of play of intelligent systems, how they are making their way into commercial contexts.

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