A survey released by Cisco this week spells good news for AI proponents and bad news for low level office workers, researchers, or anyone looking to get a foot on the career ladder, writes Niall Kitson.

The study of more than 2,000 white collar professionals conducted across 10 countries found that 95% of respondents agreed that AI in the form of a digital personal assistant can help them work smarter by eliminating drudge work like scheduling meetings, taking notes or typing documents and e-mails. 

Furthermore, 57% said working with an AI would increase their productivity and 51% said it would improve their ability to focus on their work. People were also found to be more than welcoming of AI in the office, with only 10% saying they would find it disturbing if their computer managed their incoming and outgoing phone calls.

If bots are to find their niche in the office environment, it looks like the boardroom will be focal point. Between minute-taking, fact checking and participation management, digital personal assistants could be an excellent solution - especially in teams with flat hierarchies. Meet Siri, your newest scrum master.

The trend in such surveys - granted they come from vested interests - is they do a fair job of showing an appetite for new technology without acknowledging what professions will be affected and how. Cisco says 82% of respondents with a personal assistant feel they would be more productive if they also had a virtual assistant. Fast forward five years and you can be sure that as AI advances the role of human PAs will diminish to the point where executives will work with a common pool of assistants instead of employing on a one to one basis.

Those hardest hit will be professionals in fields like law where entry-level roles require proficiency in gathering information to be passed along to a senior who applies it based on the case specifics - work that requires some level of intelligence but can be boring and repetitive. This technology is being piloted by at least one firm in Dublin. 

It begs the question - how does one get on the career ladder if the lower rungs are taken away? I'm reminded of an interview on TechRadio with solicitor and futurist Chrissie Lightfoot, who warned that within the next 25 years you will be able to file a patent or solve low-level litigation without any human intervention at all. The squeeze that starts with a convenience may stretch all the way up the pay grades.

Forget managers for managers, assistants for assistants and rotating note-takers. The future is cost-cutting, downsizing and a declining number of decisions for senior-level professionals.

Still excited?

Niall Kitson is editor of TechCentral.ie