Why Not Work With a Bot?

How CIOs can shape the future of work in which most workforces include machines.

Technology surrounds us and shapes us in many ways — in our relationships, businesses and communities, and in how we communicate, collaborate and work. Its impact is only intensified by the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and smart machines.

“Organizations can no longer treat technology investment and people investment as two separate activities,” says Helen Poitevin, research director at Gartner. “CIOs must align technology with business context to support major changes in work and jobs, in organizational structures and in culture.”

The interplay of people and AI is where CIOs can create most value

One example is the introduction of AI in the enterprise and its impact on the workplace. Starting in 2020, Gartner predicts that AI will create 2.3 million jobs and eliminate only 1.8 million. CIOs should take the lead in telling this story and making it a reality.

Poitevin adds, “The interplay of people and AI is where CIOs can create most value. We are confident that learning machines, bots and robots will become increasingly pervasive in work, home and community environments.”

4 future of work scenarios

To help CIOs shape their future workplaces, Gartner explored the need for people and technology to come together to build tomorrow’s businesses, platforms and ecosystems. “My colleagues and I took into account the extent to which machines are capable, and the extent to which humans are accepting of them. We also considered different combinations of key, strong and uncertain forces on the roles of machines in the workplace,” says Poitevin.

Those forces take into consideration the ability of machines to perform simple and limited tasks that rival or exceed the capabilities of humans, as well as humans’ acceptance of machines and their use in a wide range of human activities.

Four scenarios emerged. Poitevin outlines each one and provides recommendations for how CIOs and other IT leaders can manage machine-human workforces.

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Scenario No. 1: Minibot proliferation

Machine capabilities are limited, but humans are comfortable with the presence of large numbers of simple, focused machines.

Recommendations: Build sticky relationships with highly skilled talent. Invest heavily in bot support, skills upgrades and other elements of the employee value proposition.

Scenario No. 2: I’d rather have a bot for it

AI drives both software- and hardware-centric bots that surround people in their day-to-day lives, making machines widely accepted throughout society.

Recommendations: Manage robots and virtual assistant resources to maximize productivity, with continual reassessment and reprovisioning of these assets. Optimize cybersecurity capabilities to fend off threats and produce competitive advantage.

Scenario No. 3: Bots go bad

Highly capable machines are present, but rejected by humans. Humans are effectively in an ongoing conflict with machines, which operate outside the boundaries of society and the law. This is the darkest scenario.

Recommendations: Invest heavily in risk management capabilities, including cybersecurity, to increase resilience amid uncertainty. Build trusted networks of employees and workers who are aligned to a common higher-level purpose.

Scenario No. 4: Bots can’t drive

Machines are not always reliable, sometimes unsafe and can’t be trusted to make important decisions. Humans largely reject the presence of machines in their lives and offices.

Recommendations: Create a strong governance policy for the use of machines. Develop “bot master” certification programs. Update ethics and value statements that can be used as a tool for communicating machine guidelines. Purchase robot insurance to protect against damaging failures.

Read more: 6 Ways the Workplace Will Change in the Next 10 Years

“We urge C-level executives to consider particular scenarios not in terms of whether the scenario is ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but in terms of who wins and who loses, and what is won or lost,” says Poitevin.

“It is critical that CIOs discuss with the boards of directors which elements in each scenario are desirable and undesirable, and make sure the desirable elements happen and the undesirable don’t. This, in turn, will lead to a fifth scenario — the reality we will create.”

Gartner clients can read more in the "Future of Work Scenarios 2035: How Will Leaders Manage in a Majority-Bot Workforce World?" by Helen Poitevin et al.

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