‘Going against the grain’ is getting some surprising endorsement in the rarefied upper strata of professional industry analysts

Need an example?

How about the claim that 60% of ‘industry thought leaders’ are massively underestimating the likely decimation of the job market by the upcoming generation of ‘smart machine’ technology.



There’s a Gartner press release which puts the example mentioned above in the context of this (contrarian? unorthodox?) approach to research:

Gartner’s ‘Maverick’ research is designed to spark new, unconventional insights. Maverick research is unconstrained by Gartner’s typical broad consensus-formation process to deliver breakthrough, innovative and disruptive ideas from the company’s research incubator to help organizations get ahead of the mainstream and take advantage of trends and insights that could impact IT strategy and the wider organization.

Not convinced that this research is really ‘all that edgy’?

Well, Gartner seem to think so: if you go and select one of the relevant reports from this page on the Gartner website, you will see a caveat that says:

“Maverick research deliberately exposes unconventional thinking and may not agree with Gartner’s official positions”

Still not convinced?

The rest of the press release reads like, well, if it had come from anyone else, it might be considered to be nothing more than a gloomily pessimistic, perhaps even dystopian rant:

Machines are evolving from automating basic tasks to becoming advanced self-learning systems as capable as the human brain in many highly specialized professions. As such, the next wave of job losses will likely occur among highly valued specialists during the next decade.

Gartner research has found that many CEOs are failing to recognize the widespread and deep business impact that smart machines will have through 2020.

“The bottom line is that many CEOs are missing what could quickly develop to be the most significant technology shift of this decade,” said Mr. Brant. “In fact, even today, there is already a multifaceted marketplace for engineering a ‘digital workforce,’ backed by major players on both the supply and demand side. This marketplace comprises intelligent agents, virtual reality assistants, expert systems and embedded software to make traditional machines ‘smart’ in a very specialized way, plus a new generation of low-cost and easy-to-train robots and purpose-built automated machines that could significantly devalue and/or displace millions of humans in the workforce.”

Gartner believes that the capability and reliability of smart machines will dramatically increase through 2020 to the point where they will have a major impact on business and IT functions. The impact will be such that firms that have not begun to develop programs and policies for a “digital workforce” by 2015 will not perform in the top quartile for productivity and operating profit margin improvement in their industry by 2020. As a direct result, the careers of CIOs who do not begin to champion digital workforce initiatives with their peers in the C-suite by 2015 will be cut short by 2023.

A number of forces are colluding to make this threat a reality, not least the fact that the technologies for building a large-scale and diverse scope of smart machines are coalescing and being tested by “first movers.” At the same time ongoing weak revenue growth in the global economy will spur demand for cost reduction and productivity improvement by employing smart machines in place of humans.

Whilst it certainly seems undeniably commendable to conduct and issue this kind of research, it might actually be pertinent for others to at least give some serious consideration to following Gartner’s example.

In the case of the research detailed above, I have some questions of my own, some are not fully developed, so I’ll leave you with just one:

Why have the 60% of CEOs who have failed to appreciate the changes that Gartner is anticipating not kept up with the relevant developments that the other 40% have recognised and are preparing for? 

Perhaps someone who has purchased the research article referred to in the press release (I haven’t) or who attended the relevant session(s?) at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2013 event which was held in Orlando 6 – 10 October (I didn’t) can let me know whether this question has been answered.