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Wipro job cuts in India: Are automation and artificial intelligence to blame?

Source | LinkedIn : By Muqbil Ahmar

These are the facts: Wipro, India’s third largest software services company, is reportedly sacking 600 employees, whereas there is speculation the number may go up to 2,000. The company says the development is part of its “performance appraisal”.

This is not an isolated event. Other Information Technology (IT) Sector companies have also been laying off people. Cognizant laid off 6,000 employees. According to reports, the number could have gone up to 10,000. The technology major also said that employees were removed for non-performance. Cognizant has roughly 2,60,200 employees across the world, of whom 1,88,000 or around 72% are based in India. Tech major IBM is reportedly planning to lay off 5000 employees, while another tech biggie Microsoft may cut 2800 jobs. Infosys too has announced 8000–9000 layoffs.

Are international visa restrictions responsible for the firings?

A number of people as well as the media have tended to blame worker visa restrictions being put by various countries such as the USA, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand for the troubled times for the sector considered to be one of the top revenue earners for India. Although that might be a reason for the recent spate in layoffs, industry experts are of the opinion that such firings are here to stay and they blame automation for it. And they have a justified reason.

The sackings are not surprising; in fact, they were always meant to be there. The foundation for the Wipro firings were laid way back in 2015. The IT major had itself expected the headcount to decrease by around 47,000 in 2015 when it went ahead with plans to automate 1/3rd of its jobs. It is all part of the strategy as the company goes for extensive automation, digital services, and artificial intelligence.

As companies increasingly go for automation and new-age technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Mining, Virtual Reality, Deep Learning, among others, jobs will be drastically slashed. And the phenomenon will most particularly hit jobs in the Information Technology sector.

Most IT as well as ITeS companies have begun automating jobs in large numbers. Machines are learning fast and deciphering patterns through sophisticated algorithms and mathematical models. Very soon a number of jobs would be taken away from human beings and given away to machines armed with artificial intelligence and machine learning. And human beings would be no match for them.

“For example, IBM’s supercomputer Watson can crunch data at the speed of 67 million pages per second, transforming them into actionable insights. It has machine learning and artificial intelligence inbuilt into it. Within a few years, it would have collected humongous amounts of data, difficult to even imagine. Together with analytics, it would be in a position to replace around 80% of jobs that humans do. A number of employees are already on the firing list. I have myself been asked to fire a few,” says an IBM employee not wanting to be named.

There is no doubt that the data tsunami and crunching blitzkrieg will leave hundreds of thousands of humans redundant. It’s a race against time. The competition has reached a whole new level now. And the rivals are well-endowed machines and robots. It’s anybody’s guess who will win the face-off. It’s just a matter of time before intelligent machines start replacing human beings en masse.

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