Technology BT tech chief sparks AI row after comparing humans...

BT tech chief sparks AI row after comparing humans to horses


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BT’s technology chief has sparked a row after comparing workers whose jobs are under threat from AI to horses being replaced by cars.

Union chiefs have hit out at the analogy made by Harmeen Mehta, BT’s chief digital and innovation officer, who described the impact of AI on the jobs market as “evolution”.

In an interview with Raconteur magazine, she said: “I don‘t know how horses felt when the car was invented, but they didn’t complain that they were put out of a job; they didn’t go on strike.

“It’s part of evolution. Some jobs will change, some new ones will be created and some will no longer be needed.”

Her comments come as BT pursues plans to cut up to 55,000 jobs by the end of the decade, with around a fifth of workers to be replaced by AI.

The company expects to deploy the technology largely in its customer service division.

Outgoing chief executive Philip Jansen has said it could save the company hundreds of millions of pounds.

Ms Mehta also accused the media of overstating the dangers of AI, while insisting that “society changes and jobs morph”.

She said: “The media here is creating a level of paranoia that’s going to paralyse this country – it creates more emotional problems for me than I do for myself.

“I’ve spent the past two years trying to convince my company that human intelligence and artificial intelligence can work together.”

Despite this, Ms Mehta still urged people to retrain, warning that those who don’t might be automated out of work.

She said: “Every job that exists today won’t exist in exactly the same form in the future.

“The people who reskill themselves will have jobs, at this company or another, while those who don‘t might not. That is simply part of the evolution of society.”

The comments sparked accusations that the BT executive was questioning workers’ intelligence and undermining their right to strike.

The Communication Workers Union, which represents thousands of BT employees, said: “The right to strike has been a hard-won human right that should not be denigrated by people in positions of corporate seniority.

“Nor should the intelligence of workers, who just want a serious discussion on AI that respects their concerns and ensures there is reasonable protection for them.”


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