What does the future of artificial intelligence look like? Stanford University recently invited leading thinkers to begin a 100-year effort to study and anticipate how the effects of artificial intelligence will ripple through every aspect of how people work, live and play. My sense is that if a topic requires a 100-year study, then that means there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty and anxiety surrounding that topic.
So, is the future Skynet and The Terminator?
But even for many observers who are not quite as apocalyptic, artificial intelligence still means a future of mass unemployment and widening inequality. On the other end of the spectrum, we’re sitting on a beach drinking a Mai Tai, or we’re George Jetson being served by Rosie the Robot.
Perhaps the future lies somewhere in between.
The “leisure dividend” refers to the freedom we get as technology performs mundane tasks for us, although that freedom could be consumed by other work, rather than leisure. What does this mean for IT and telecom? Engineers and technicians currently bogged down in the many tedious aspects of running networks will be freed up to focus on higher-level, strategic activities. Yes, some jobs will disappear, but many others will evolve, and new jobs will be created. But for companies in our industry to fully realize the benefits of automation, machine learning, and intent-driven systems, they must transform their organizations, their culture, their processes, and the skill sets of their people.
Over time, network know-how will slowly move from relatively static operations to programming and machine learning. Ultimately, in a self-driving world the network experts will provide oversight and algorithmic tweaking. Some will shift to service design roles as the network essentially “gets out of the way.” And of course the robots need to be managed and trained. If the new intern is a robot, then they need to be trained just like your intern today – and she’s not taking over your job anytime soon, right? In fact, she helps you out a lot and makes your life easier if you train her and effectively manage her.
Skills transformation in the networking industry is already underway. SDN, which has exposed the physical infrastructure to be programmed through APIs, has been a wake-up call to network engineers and system administrators who have not previously needed programming skills to perform their jobs. Network operators are slowly embracing DevOps, the confluence of roles and responsibilities among network operations, IT, and software development, to speed up the creation and deployment of services
Too many people in our industry are fearful of automation and the “robots taking our jobs.” Elon Musk has warned that “with artificial intelligence, we’re summoning the demon,” but we view the future much more optimistically. In the past technology has always ended up creating more jobs than it destroys. While many speak of artificial intelligence, we prefer to think in terms of augmented intelligence. So, maybe the future is different and better than today, but neither of the extremes mentioned above.
When networks are better defended from threats, more reliable and resilient, and easier to manage, the network becomes an even bigger part of our lives. The industry wins. And maybe we do get a leisure dividend out of this. The person who runs your network doesn’t get any more 3AM calls. That’s not such a bad thing.