At Davos this week the CEO of Manpower, a global talent services company, released the findings of a study based on interviews they conducted with 18,000 employers in 43 countries asking them how they see digital technologies such as AI impacting their headcount.
An astounding 64% of employers felt that it would have no impact on their headcount numbers whatsoever.
In addition, a number of other surveys conducted by a variety of groups (including McKinsey) show that a similar number of Fortune 1000 CEO’s (over 60%) believe that AI is a significant opportunity and that they plan to significantly increase their investment in AI related technologies in 2017 and beyond.
So these studies seem to indicate that while a majority of executives see AI as a significant opportunity for their company, and plan to invest heavily in it, they do not also believe that this will translate into a real reduction in their headcount needs.
Based on conversations I have had over the years with executives across most industries my thinking is that the contradictions found in these two studies might be due to the fact that many executives outside of the technology space think of AI only as an improvement in data science and a better predictive analytics tool. This of course misses the shear scope of the foundational change that AI will drive across every industry.
Silicon Valley needs to do a much better job helping companies, and industry in general, understand the full potential of AI.
It is a mistake to look at AI as only data science 2.0. While it is true that AI will greatly improve the use of big data it will also impact how every company interacts with its supply chain and customers by fundamentally changing how they produce, deliver, sell and support their goods and services. And these changes will go far beyond simply better data science. While machine and deep learning will be distributed through all AI initiatives the advances in NLP, neural nets, image recognition and robotics will have a greater impact on the touch points between companies and their supply chain and customers then simply that which is provided by better data science.
In the near future robots will solely man the factory floor, autonomous trucks will deliver these products to homes and stores, and smart interfaces (robots and other machines) on the phone and on the showroom floor will handle a good portion of retail sales and customer support. And smart machines and algorithm's will make many of the decisions and do many of the tasks in compliance, legal, HR and finance. And of course this will all impact the amount and types of employees needed.
If companies fail to fully grasp the scale of the opportunity I fear that they will not take the steps necessary to re-imagine and re-design their businesses to meet the challenges of the next 20 years.