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AI – Threat or Not? Software Developers’ Take

July 28, 2017

Well of course AI is a hot topic in software development and in the software community in general.  Developers everywhere are finding ways to incorporate one or more of the varied forms of AI including machine learning, deep learning, pattern recognition, conversational systems, real-time data analysis and more. AI adoption is everywhere.  But you really know it’s a hot topic when software Silicon Valley titans like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg get into a public tiff about how AI is going to impact us.

Telling the future is an imprecise art and developers are not prescient; however, as practitioners, they may have some insight. In June we published the next edition of our ongoing Evans Data AI and Big Data Survey – a survey of developers actively working in these areas – and asked them not only what AI projects they’re working on now but how their projects are going to impact people and their jobs.

The majority of their current projects (51%) are seeking to replace IT activities. This was also the category most developers (47%) were seeking to supplement.  That’s right, traditional IT tasks are most directly in the bull’s eye, and that’s likely to be the first community to see the impact. Is that for better or worse?

It’s clear that artificial intelligence is going to displace workers. There’s been lots of talk about robots replacing unskilled workers – burger flippers and such – and this is already happening, but AI and robotics aren’t the same thing, and the jobs that AI will replace or supplement are jobs that require a lot of cognition. It’s logical that it would start within the computing arena itself, and there seems to be a lot of excitement about it in that area.

But it spreads out from there. Customer support was the second most targeted category, selected by 41% of developers, while operational decision making was the second most selected job category for supplementation. These are areas that most of us would agree could use some help.  The industries that are being addressed most frequently are, once again, the computer or software engineering industry, followed by telecommunications and manufacturing.

Obviously AI will change a lot of things, starting with the software industry itself, but that doesn’t call for doom and gloom.  When asked what the most exciting things they saw AI bringing, the developers said “Integration of machine learning with IoT” – the marriage of two new technology implementations that both hold significant promise, also “Real-time transactional databases”, which is hardly threatening, and “Predictive analytics”.  Of course it’s possible these could “turn bad”, but it’s most likely that these types of implementations will instead usher in new efficiencies and open up areas and opportunities that haven’t even been thought of before.

Throughout history people have been afraid of the future and of the technologies that shape that future, but so far those innovations have been a boon to mankind.  Developers are smart and they are passionately embracing AI, so if we had to make a call on whether AI developers would side with Elon or Mark, my bet would be that Mark would come out ahead.

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