Smart Software Is Changing Work: But What about Actual Facts? Maybe the Pandemic? Maybe Revenue Misses?

March 31, 2020

AI Is Changing Work and Leaders need to Adapt” is a remarkable analysis of what seems to be taking place IRL (in real life) as opposed to the Ivory Tower world of a university business school. Just as economic departments missed the boat on certain economic developments, the business schools are doing their best to make statements oddly out of step with what’s shakin’ and bakin’ here and now.

This write up is an excellent example of what happens when data lag behind actual events. The notion of time is a problem for outfits like Google, but one would assume that the esteemed Harvard Business School would be zippier.


The article appeared on March 24, 2020. The information in the report was a “recent survey.” Yep, that date and time thing seems to elude the reader.

What does the article report?

The advent of AI poses new and unique challenges for business leaders.

Who holds this idea?

Harvard business school alumni.

But who, pray tell, gathered the insights from this “elite group”?

The answer is “A team at the MIT IBM Watson AI Lab.”

Now that’s a research team to respect: A frenemy university and a large US outfit which has become a punch line for wild and crazy assertions about Watson, the cancer curing TV game show winner.

Academic excellence? Objectivity? Substantial research achievements?

Let’s look at what’s reported about the survey of the elite, shall we?

ITEM 1: Job Data

our MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab team analyzed 170 million online job posts between 2010 and 2017. The study’s first implication: While occupations change slowly — over years and even decades — tasks become reorganized at a much faster pace.

So the research team examined online classifieds? What percentage were real jobs? What percentage were placed in order to obtain competitive intelligence? What percentage were red herrings intended to identify disgruntled employees? Those job listings appear to have been assumed to be valid. Okay. Let’s move on.

ITEM 2: Training

Millions of workers will need to be retrained or reskilled as a result of AI over the next three years, according to a recent IBM Institute for Business Value study.

What no data? That’s right. The findings are a marketing and PR pitch for another IBM study. My goodness, I used to think the McKinsey Award was a PR play. IBM has upped the ante: Harvard, MIT, and home grown research blend for a “finding.” This is academic excellence? This is intellectual honesty? Yeah, right. Remember MIT accepted funds from an interesting character, and Harvard. Right, Harvard. Fine outfit harboring consultants who do commercial work while conducting “research.”

ITEM 3: Educate

Our research shows that technology can disproportionately impact the demand and earning potential for mid-wage workers, causing a squeeze on the middle class. For every five tasks that shifted out of mid-wage jobs, we found, four tasks moved to low-wage jobs and one moved to a high-wage job. As a result, wages are rising faster in the low- and high-wage tiers than in the mid-wage tier.

Data? Nope. The finding is that graduating from an “elite” school delivers contacts, good employment and investment opportunities, and a lever to widen wage gaps. Do elite managers pay themselves and their colleagues less? But the interesting point is that there are zero data.

But who wrote this marketing fluff? An MIT tenured professor? A team of Harvard elite after making a podcast and enjoying ever so much one another’s company?


The write up was written, according to the article, by Martin Fleming, IBM’s chief economist and vice president.

The survey data? The connection with the real world? Ha ha.

When Mad Magazine went out of business, I wondered what would fill the gap?

I now know. It is smart software, not the pandemic, and the demonstration that economists are as prescient as ever.

Stephen E Arnold, March 31, 2020


One Response to “Smart Software Is Changing Work: But What about Actual Facts? Maybe the Pandemic? Maybe Revenue Misses?”

  1. Jerry Ridge on April 1st, 2020 6:54 pm

    Academics have been behind for almost 50 years. I asked a professor about staying with the development curve and he said we are always 2 years behind the curve. New tech is developed, implemented, information is presented in various forms. Curriculum is developed books are printed and by the time the information is taught it’s old. I was told this in the 70’s. This article from HBR is a little late.

    So when they say “workforce reskilling and, on a larger scale, advancing new models of education and lifelong learning” I would say this has been done by individuals to insure their productivity and viability. Similarly coding schools and manufacturer training has enhanced this. When it comes to large expensive machines getting time on them to learn is never there. Fake it till you make it is what a PHD once told me. I’m retired now so have at it. AI is essentially a marketing and management tool as I see it. Practical solutions to enhance humans will be a cyborg adventure.

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