IBM's CEO expects AI to replace 30% of the firm's back-office roles in five years

There may soon be fewer people at IBM’s offices.
There may soon be fewer people at IBM’s offices.

IBM Corp. will begin to slow or suspend hiring for jobs that could be done by artificial intelligence, CEO Arvind Krishna said this week an interview with Bloomberg. This change would affect back-office functions like human resources, initially targeting more clerical work like generating employment verification letters or moving employees between departments, Krishna said.

About 26,000 IBM jobs fall under this category. “I could easily see 30% of that getting replaced by AI and automation over a five-year period,” Krishna explained. This would result in cutting about 7,800 positions.

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Using AI to replace more complex functions, such as evaluating workforce composition and productivity, may take another 10 years, Krishna said.

IBM’s move is one of the largest strategic shifts so far in response to AI’s improving ability to take on jobs previously done by people. It also feeds widening concerns about how the technology might change the workforce as companies start to integrate it, expanding from the back-office positions mentioned by Krishna to other roles in industries like law, tech, and media.

The release of ChatGPT has spurred efforts to predict how AI will change society

Since the ChatGPT AI chatbot appeared six months ago, the race to advance artificial intelligence has prompted concerns about how it will transform society, and what can be done to avoid its most worrying potential impacts.

A report by Goldman Sachs estimates that two thirds of US jobs could be affected by AI, with some being augmented and others fully replaced. The report also notes that historically, jobs replaced by technological innovations have been offset by the creation of new kinds of work.

The World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Work report predicts that the biggest losses due to automation will be in administrative roles—like cashier, data entry, accounting, payroll, and executive assistant—leading to some 26 million fewer jobs worldwide by 2027. Large-scale job growth is expected in education, agriculture, and e-commerce.

Looking beyond the labor market, industry leaders have called for a pause in training more powerful AI models until their effects on society can be better understood. Geoffrey Hinton, an AI pioneer, recently quit Google so he could speak freely about the harm he fears AI will cause. According to the New York Times, Hinton’s concerns include AI taking over more than just clerical tasks, its development of unexpected, possibly destructive skills, and the potential for autonomous weapons—killer robots—to become a reality.

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