AI Spending Is Expected to Increase During Global Pandemic

Artificial intelligence is one bright spot in an otherwise gloomy employment picture. According to International Data Corp., the number of AI jobs could increase as much as 16 percent in 2020, for a total of 969,000 workers in data engineering, data science and machine learning development. That’s up from the 13 percent IDC predicted before the coronavirus took hold. But, said IDC global research lead Ritu Jyoti, 11 percent growth is also a “worst case scenario” during what are uncertain times.

The Wall Street Journal says that, although CompTIA reported that “all enterprise-technology positions at U.S. businesses fell by nearly 70,000 in February,” IDC also predicted that, “global AI spending this year [will] reach a high-end estimate of $50.7 billion, up 32 percent from 2019, compared with a pre-virus forecast of 30 percent growth,” and a low estimate of 25 percent.

IDC and global IT recruiter Harvey Nash Inc. said healthcare providers, schools, insurance firms and others have “an urgent demand for AI capabilities … to deal with the pandemic.” In healthcare, said Harvey Nash chief digital technology officer Anna Frazzetto, “some tools aim to speed up data processing to provide crucial information about the pandemic’s spread to policy makers and federal agencies.”

CompTIA executive vice president for research/market intelligence Tim Herbert said that, “the pandemic has revealed a number of shortcomings in the data infrastructure of the U.S. health-care system … [and] also exposed similar gaps in supply chains, e-commerce, remote work capabilities and elsewhere.”

Technology training service Revature “has seen a spike in demand from its corporate clients for AI and machine learning trainees,” according to company cofounder/chief executive Ashwin Bharath. “The pre-pandemic world was preparing for this transition to happen in five years but the post-pandemic world will accelerate these projects,” he said.

Elsewhere, WSJ reports that at least some AI startups have had layoffs since the coronavirus hit in March. Boston-based DataRobot, which employed 1,000 workers, said it “cut a number of jobs” but wouldn’t be more specific. In Seattle, Textio, which develops AI software to help recruiters write job postings, laid off about 30 of its 150-member workforce, and Austin, Texas-based Yonder laid off 18 employees, leaving it with 40 staffers.

In Vox, Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan senior fellow/policy director Mark Muro stated “his belief that economic downturns bring about increased automation,” and that the coronavirus will hasten that trend. “Because of the crisis of the bottom line and a crash in revenue, humans become relatively more expensive compared to automation,”’ he said. “Meanwhile, you can restructure your business using new technology that increases productivity.”

He predicted that, “given existing technologies, a total of about 36 million jobs in multiple categories and industries and occupations could be replaced by machines.”