IBM’s CEO says its new A.I. tools will be able to do ’30 – 50%’ of ‘repetitive’ office work after indicating his own company will pause some hiring

IBM’s software Watson became synonymous with artificial intelligence a decade ago when it beat two top human players at the game “Jeopardy!” Now, the company has grander plans for the technology as it reenters the A.I. race in a more serious way, and its CEO says it can be a powerful step towards transforming business.

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In a Q&A with reporters on Monday, IBM chief Arvind Krishna said a redux of the tech the company created years earlier, dubbed “watsonx,” would help companies build models according to their needs, and predicted that A.I. will take over “repetitive back-office processes” from human workers.

“We see this easily taking anywhere from 30 to 50% of that volume of tasks and being able to do them with really as much or better proficiency than even people can do,” Krishna said, according to CNBC.

“That lot, we see getting embraced right away starting this year, and getting to full fruition over the next three to five years.”

IBM did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

On Tuesday, IBM announced a host of other new A.I. initiatives, including a tool that can calculate carbon emissions and a new infrastructure on IBM Cloud that is tailored for A.I.-related uses. Krishna said that those A.I. tools would be seamlessly integrated in different roles such as customer care, IT operations and cybersecurity at the company.

Krishna has previously said that IBM itself anticipates it will pause hiring for roles that A.I. could do, such as non-customer-facing roles like human resources. That would impact about 7,800 jobs, Bloomberg reported earlier this month. In a statement to Fortune last week, the company clarified that there’s no blanket hiring pause at the company, and that it’s instead “being deliberate and thoughtful in our hiring with a focus on revenue-generating roles,” and being “very selective” about hiring for jobs that aren’t client- or technology-focused. When asked for comment again, the company pointed to their previous statement.

IBM’s new A.I. products are in direct response to others like OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT, which took the world by surprise late last year. Google is also racing to catch up in the A.I. race. When IBM introduced the first Watson, it was costly for companies to adopt, according to Reuters. The company is now marketing the business-focused watsonx as an A.I. development platform that businesses could use to build their own models for a number of things, from customer care or writing code.

“With IBM watsonx, clients can quickly train and deploy custom A.I. capabilities across their entire business, all while retaining full control of their data,” Krishna told Fortune this week. IBM is partnering with HuggingFace, an A.I. startup, by working with its open-source libraries, and the company already locked down NASA, Meta and Wix as clients. The new watsonx will be available in July 2023.

A.I. and the Future of WorkThe future of work could be shaped by A.I. in more ways than we can imagine, and Krishna has been predicting for months that it will affect office workers in particular.

“I do think clerical white-collar work is going to be able to be replaced by this,” Krishna told the Financial Times in February. He added that aggregating information before making decisions can be time-consuming, and A.I. can help speed up that process so things can move more quickly. He has also previously framed it as a solution to population trends.

“We do have a shortage of labor in the real world, and that’s because of a demographic issue that the world is facing. So we have to have technologies that help,” he said in the FT interview.

While people continue to weigh the impact of A.I. on jobs, experts are split on whether the shift will be positive or negative.

“I think there’s a risk that ChatGPT makes us a lot more productive in easy-to-do stuff, but the hard part to figure out is how we can use A.I. to create innovation that then creates new occupations and new industries,” Carl Benedikt Frey, an Oxford economist who predicted automation would wipe out 47% of U.S. jobs 10 years ago, told Fortune in February.

For their part, workers have started to get anxious about the relevance of their jobs in the face of powerful A.I. tools akin to ChatGPT. Data shows that 74% of employed Americans are already familiar with ChatGPT for work tasks, 40% of whom are concerned about their roles being replaced by A.I.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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