Automation & Artificial Intelligence

There has been news everywhere in the recent months that Automation & Artificial Intelligence will be a huge part of our mainstream economy and that it would impact the job market significantly. I speak to my IT friends in India & US and they are equally skeptical that automation may lead to reduced job prospects in the very near future.

Few of the articles which I read on the subject include:

It may be a possible that a few sectors such as IT services and commodity-type manufacturing would be affected by automation. Also logistics and agriculture may be hugely benefited from automation because of increased efficiency in their operations.

I request seniors and colleagues to analyse what will be the sectors which may get positively/ negatively impacted by automation.

I work in Application Software field and I’m full of skepticism. If the organization is large and the software product is large and complex, it would need a lot of skilled people to just keep it running for the paying customers, forget about applying AI. AI is a very broadly used term for a lot of mainstream technologies these days, the level of AI a Microsoft or Google does is so vastly different from another AI player. Of course, startups can do better than larger, older companies in terms of focus and velocity, but when (and if) they are successful, they are also going to struggle with the problems of scale.

There is a lot of automation that can easily be done and can put people out of jobs, in theory. Then again, it depends on the will of the organizations, society and policy makers as a whole to make it possible. So there are a lot of possibilities in theory, but what happens in practice could be different.

Just taking the example of campaign done on Fastag for toll booths by ICICI a few months ago. We were probably one of the early adopters. Fastag if it works the intended way, is a wonderful piece of technology to automate manual job. In most toll booths(Karnataka, Tamil Nadu), the Fastag lane is by default closed, someone is seated to remove the block so that only those with valid tags can enter the lane. Then someone else will actually come down with the scanner (yes, the scanner in some toll booths are not installed) while we wait being blocked by someone manually. In theory, this lane should not have any person to collect toll and provide a receipt. If the tag is valid, it should open the bar, otherwise, it will remain closed. But the implementation needs 2-3 people now instead of 0 which is the real intent.

So technology provides tools. But it is up to the organizations/society/individuals to formulate policies on how to use them. Another example, on the security personnel in IT companies. There is an automated door that opens only when a person swipes the access card. But an employee is actually present just watching everyone swipe the card. Also, this entrance just lets one person at a time, so tailgating is really not an issue. In the US, I have seen employees swipe and enter for access. There is no army of security folks manning the gates or buildings.

The “good days” of IT industry are behind us in India. IT services is now a very mature industry just like manufacturing.

TGIF parties had stopped long back and high double digit hikes have now become high single digit hikes.

Things will only get more compressed going further. Indian IT companies need to justify their existence by giving high profit margins to the companies that give them contracts.