IBM is slowing or pausing hiring for back office roles as it considers replacing staff with artificial intelligence, its CEO has said. Arvind Krishna believes up to 30% of administrative jobs at the company, or some 7,800 posts, could be eliminated and replaced by automated systems.
The role of AI in the workplace has come under the microscope since the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot and the subsequent generative AI boom. Research from Goldman Sachs released earlier this year suggested up to 300 million jobs could be lost or degraded by advances in AI, and last month the TUC called for strict controls to be put in place by governments to prevent systems like ChatGPT diminishing the rights of workers.
Krishna’s admission that IBM will look to utilise AI, possibly at the expense of human workers, is one of the most high-profile examples of how tech leaders intend to incorporate advanced automation into their business strategies.
AI could replace 7,800 jobs at IBM
IBM CEO Krishna said in an interview with Bloomberg said his company had slowed or paused hiring for non-customer facing roles. The company employs 26,000 people in these types of jobs, and had a total global workforce of 297,000 in 2022.
“I could easily see 30% of that [26,000] getting replaced by AI and automation over a five-year period,” Krishna said. Such a move could see 7,800 jobs lost at a time when Big Blue is already making cutbacks. In January it announced 3,900 people were being made redundant, with the layoffs mostly affecting staff whose roles were no longer required following the spin-off of Kyndryl, IBM’s legacy infrastructure business unit.
The company also has an ageing workforce. In 2020, it disclosed the median age of an IBM worker was 48, significantly older than its rivals in the IT services sector. An IBM spokesperson told Bloomberg that any AI-driven reduction in headcount would include not replacing roles vacated by people leaving the business of their own accord.
Krishna’s comments come after IBM reported slightly higher than expected Q1 profit, with revenue from its IT services and software divisions enjoying healthy growth.
‘Godfather of AI’ quits Google amid growing fears over AI’s future
The move by IBM to replace staff with AI comes amid growing fears about the rapid development of tools such as ChatGPT and the impact they will have on society.
In March, experts including Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak signed a letter calling for an immediate pause on the development of large language models like GPT-4, the technology behind ChatGPT while the ethical implications of the technology are considered.
Governments around the world are also rushing to regulate AI, with the UK publishing details of its approach in March.
Yesterday British computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton, known as the “godfather of AI” for his ground-breaking research on deep neural networks, revealed he had quit his role at Google, telling the New York Times that he was concerned about the direction the technology was heading in, and expressing fears that “bad actors” could deploy AI for nefarious purposes.
Google’s chief scientist Jeff Dean told the NYT that the company remained committed to responsible AI development.