Despite being among the leaders of the digital revolution, software developers apparently are just as concerned as workers in other fields that automation and technological advances could, at some point, endanger their jobs, according to a recent Evans Data survey.
Indeed, the Evans Data study indicates that developers fear that their own obsolescence will be spurred by artificial intelligence (AI). The company surveyed more than 550 developers across a variety of industries. When asked to identify the most worrisome thing in their careers, nearly one-third (29.1 percent) selected the "I and my development efforts are replaced by artificial intelligence" category.
Developers' next biggest worries were related to platform concerns. Twenty-three percent of the respondents said they were worried that the platforms they work on might become obsolete, and 14 percent said they were worried that the platform they are targeting might not gain significant adoption.
"Another dimension to this finding is that over three-quarters of the developers thought that robots and artificial intelligence would be a great benefit to mankind, but a little over 60 percent thought it could be a disaster," said Janel Garvin, CEO of Evans Data, in a statement. "Overlap between two groups was clear which shows the ambivalence that developers feel about the dawn of intelligent machines. There will be wonderful benefits, but there will also be some cataclysmic changes culturally and economically."
Some observers note that developers often see firsthand the power of AI and are more keenly aware of its potential.
"It does not surprise that developers, who have the skills to understand AI at a deeper level than most folks, would be concerned about it," said Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC. "However, I would say there are many other jobs and roles that are less creativity-centric—e.g. news reporting—that are more vulnerable in the first order."
Yet, from a broader perspective, this has been a major anxiety in recent history over how technology, which in the early days was largely mechanical and electrical, would replace humans, Hilwa said.
"Over time, it did, but the net result is a transformation in the nature of work towards knowledge work, and the shift in the nature of economies and the products produced," he said. "Overall, there has been dislocation of course, but also incredible growth and net improvement in lifestyles at almost every level of the income scale."
The Evans Data study comes at the emergence of what IBM CEO Ginni Rometty calls the "cognitive era." With its Watson cognitive computing system, IBM is pushing into the cognitive era in a major way. Big Blue's Watson features a natural language interface, which enables users to directly query the system in natural language. Watson understands and responds in natural language. The system can ingest vast amounts of data and analyze it in milliseconds. It also learns from itself and builds its base of knowledge every time it used.
During a keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, Rometty announced several new advances and partnerships built around the IBM Watson cognitive computing platform. Each of those advances has the potential to impact jobs at some level, including IBM's plans with Softbank Robotics to take their partnership on a Watson-powered robot global. Through their joint work, Softbank has infused Watson into its "empathetic" robot Pepper, enabling it to understand and answer questions in real time, opening up new possibilities for the use of robotics in business scenarios such as banking, retail and hospitality.