Fierce Network Research Bulletin

AI job anxiety unfounded, say CSP leaders in new survey

Welcome to the latest edition of the Fierce Network Research Bulletin. This week we’re talking about a small piece of a big survey and report we just released digging into how communication service providers are implementing AI and automation. And read through for the control plane, stat of the week, what I’m watching for next week, and a dropped packet.

  • Over two-thirds of CSP leaders surveyed by Fierce Network believe AI and automation will increase or minimally impact job numbers, not reduce them
  • While AI will soon independently operate networks, this shift will transition human roles to overseeing AI systems and strategic tasks
  • Find out more — a lot more — about how CSPs are implementing AI and automation in our free report and webinar

While dire predictions abound that artificial intelligence (AI) will result in a mass-layoff jobs apocalypse, communication service provider (CSP) leaders are optimistic about the employment outlook in the age of AI and automation, according to a recent survey by Fierce Network Research.

We surveyed 120 CSP leaders in April and May about the overall state of AI and automation on the network and in the CSP business. The wide-ranging survey yielded meaty insights about how CSPs are implementing AI and automation across the entire business to enhance efficiency, reduce costs and improve service quality.

Download the free report here: Telecom automation and AI: Let’s get real. Also, watch a webinar discussing the findings, featuring me and Fierce Network founder Steve Saunders. Go ahead; I’ll wait….

You're back. Good. Let’s look at one small — but important and interesting — part of the overall research: AI and careers.

Look around and you’ll find no shortage of dire predictions about AI taking jobs. Half of today’s work activities could be automated between 2030 and 2060, according to a 2023 prediction from McKinsey. IBM CEO Arvind Krisnha similarly said last year he could see 30% of back-office jobs being replaced by AI over five years.

The U.K. tabloid The Sun had a wonderfully cheeky headline summarizing results:  “AI ‘job-pocalypse’ coming as bots could take nearly ONE BILLION jobs from people – and they will be better than humans.”.

OMG, right?!

What AI job anxiety?

That doom and gloom view was not shared by the CSP leaders responding to our survey. More than two-thirds of respondents said AI and automation will increase job numbers or at least have minimal effect on those numbers. Fewer than a quarter of respondents said AI and automation will eliminate jobs.

Chart showing research results

All good, right?

Not so fast! The sunny job prediction is apparently contradicted by the answer to another question: When will AI and automation tools be able to operate networks without humans?

Pie chart, research results


This is a global trend we’re watching closely at Fierce Network. We’re calling it Smart Cloud. You can also call it a closed-loop, self-driving or fully automated network.

Smart Cloud combines cloud, observability, automation, AI and security to deliver networks that optimize, heal, defend and operate themselves.

How can we reconcile these two apparently contradictory conclusions? On the one hand, CSP tech leaders are saying AI and automation won’t take jobs, but on the other hand, these respondents say that AI and automation will be able to operate the network without human intervention. If people aren’t operating the network, what will they do?

As AI and automation take over routine work, humans will shift towards overseeing AI systems, managing exceptions, and focusing on strategic, creative and complex problem-solving tasks that AI can’t handle. Humans will also work on improving AI systems, ensuring cybersecurity, and developing new technologies and services. This transition highlights a shift from routine operational tasks to more value-added roles that leverage human creativity and oversight.

That’s the way technological shifts have played out in the past: Automating jobs, paradoxically, often does not destroy that job sector; it instead increases demand.

For example, the invention of the automated teller machine (ATM) increased demand for bank tellers, as automation permitted banks to open more branches and put a couple of bank tellers at each branch. And the introduction of the spreadsheet in the 1980s decreased the number for bookkeepers and accounting clerks, but increased demand for accounting and accountants.

The historical picture isn’t entirely rosy. Telephone operation was among the most common jobs for American women at the turn of the 20th century. But AT&T automated that job between 1920 and 1940, replacing operators with mechanical switching. The elimination of phone operator jobs was countered by employment growth in middle-skill clerical jobs and lower-skill services jobs, including new categories of work. And the category of phone operators didn’t disappear (for example, the photo heading up this article, of switchboard operators in a Seattle private branch exchange, was taken in 1952). However, many operators were in lower-paying occupations or no longer working a decade later.

Turning from history to the future: The Smart Cloud will be the foundation of a global economic transformation. The future is automated and AI-driven, for factories, airplanes, ships, smart cars, communications, healthcare and more. And all of this infrastructure and services will run on networks. Those networks will need to be fully automated and AI-driven to meet the demand for data. The demand for those networks will be explosive — making the last 30 years look like the years before the Internet took of — and even with AI and automation, those networks will require human oversight.

That’s where all the new jobs will come from. The network pie is going to get a lot larger. A smaller share of a big pie can be bigger — much bigger — than a large share of a small pie.

The jobs findings were just a small part of the broad range of our overall research. The report is a free download — get it here: Telecom automation and AI: Let’s get real.

But first, you might want to watch our free webinar, where Fierce Network founder Steve Saunders and I discuss the report findings: Transforming Telco Networks With Automation and AI. Steve is knowledgeable, opinionated and articulate. We talked for 45 minutes and took questions for 15 more and we were informative, provocative, animated and entertaining, if I do say so myself.

Control plane

What I'm reading this week

Stat of the week

Some 63% of global companies plan to increase AI spending in the next 12 months, down drastically from 93% in 2023, according to a report from LucidWorks.

What I’m watching for next week

News from the DTW Ignite conference, June 18-24, Copenhagen, with a focus on AI-native telcos. Our editors will be on the ground at the show, so stay tuned for exclusive insights.

Dropped packet

A 1950s ad for Super Supper Salad Loaf

That’s the Fierce Network Research Bulletin for this week. If you want more Fierce Network in your inbox — and you know that you do! — sign up for our daily newsletters here. Our newsletters are better than a Super Supper Salad Loaf.