The more basic procurement jobs of today, needing relatively low-level cognitive skills, e.g., data input, manipulation, and processing, will be made obsolete in the foreseeable future by advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) software, a researcher predicts.

David Gillespie, a lawyer by training who has researched and published in many extra-legal fields, writes that the development of AI technology is about to obtain enormous funding – earlier this year, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing government agencies to prioritise research into the technology. Since March 2017, 18 other countries have announced similar initiatives. AI is coming to a job near you, and fast.

AI ‘learns’ to solve problems based on a set of rules rather than on a set of fixed, linear instructions. It can also modify the rules in light of errors. In other words, it learns from its mistakes. And it has already taken on more and more mundane work performed by human operatives, steadily replacing workers in, for example, assembly line jobs with fast, error-free robotic automation.

More recently, AI has extended into fields once thought to be immune to automation, with medical diagnosis being the most recent specialism reached by the technology’s deep learning capabilities. Doctors spend many years honing their diagnostic abilities, examining thousands of X-rays and MRI scans, and improving their pattern-spotting skills. But, as Gillespie observes: “AI software can review every X-ray ever made before the doctor has finished her morning coffee.”

Do professionals in procurement and supply chain jobs need to start worrying? Gillespie is blunt: “If your job could be classified as administrative support then the future does not look bright.” But practitioners, whether on the permanent payroll or working as procurement and supply chain interims, who can combine advanced technological know-how with advanced interpersonal communication and management skills are much safer. AI tends to find the vagaries and enigmas of human relationships too messy and unpredictable to learn from.

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