Zero One: Robotics, AI in Channel’s Future Thinkstock

Zero One: Robotics, AI in Channel’s Future

Millions of job losses loom, but channel partners can take advantage of this tale of woe.

Venture across a bridge in the Bay Area, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a human toll taker to take your cash. They’re mostly automated FasTrak lanes. Shop in a grocery store, and it’ll be quicker to go through self-checkout than wait in line for a cashier. And when was the last time you talked to a bank teller?

Signs abound showing technology displacing human workers. But the truth is, they’ve always been there. During World War II, Alan Turing’s Bombe machine compressed and decoded volumes of encrypted data in mere hours, which would have taken thousands of years for humans to do it. Today, an artificial intelligence (AI) machine maps genomic sequences to identify the link to Alzheimer’s disease.

Now we’re on the cusp of another era of cutting-edge technology displacing millions of American workers. On the bright side, these events are an opportunity for tech savvy professionals such as channel partners to grease the wheels of disruption.

There’s no question that new automation technologies – namely, robotics and AI – will have a profound effect on U.S. labor. Forrester predicts 24.7 million U.S. jobs, or 17 percent, will be lost by 2027 due to AI. Office administrators, construction workers and call center workers are most at risk.

Echoing Arthur Miller’s tragic American play “Death of a Salesman” (1947), Forrester also believes a million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs by 2020. They’re being cut out not only because of automation but today’s digital buyer who prefers researching products and conducting business online.

For many companies and employees, the future is already here. Two out of five enterprises are already making use of cognitive and AI tools. Case-in-point: IBM Watson handles more and more tier 1 support calls.

“One company told us that it reduced employment in a shared service function by 8 percent and capped future hiring but gained far more efficiency for those remaining,” writes Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder in a research note.

Related: Zero One: Will AI Boost Profits?

Automation, however, will create 14.9 million new jobs, or 10 percent. It’s good news for IT departments and channel partners. “Some of these jobs will fall under the technology management umbrella, and all of them will deeply link to your automation infrastructure,” Gownder says.

But it won’t be enough, because this still leads to a net loss of 9.8 million jobs, or 7 percent. To put this in perspective, a job loss of 7 percent is similar to the Great Depression in scale, Forrester says.

Channel partners in AI can find a silver lining in this tale of woe.

Armed with AI know-how, channel partners can help customers tap the power of AI by adding AI algorithms to apps and leveraging cloud-based tools such as Amazon AI and Microsoft Azure Machine Learning and Cortana Intelligence Suite. Everything from natural language processing and image recognition to visual search to machine learning can find their way into their toolbox.

It’s not just a one-off deal, either. Forrester says it can take 18 months just to train AI and advises companies to have a long-term AI plan.

“Infrastructure and operations professionals must collaborate with business intelligence pros to create a strong foundation of technology for the knowledge base, including an approach for storage and distribution, software, and user interfaces,” Gownder says.

Based in Silicon Valley, Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is eager to hear how AI is impacting your business. You can reach him at [email protected]  

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