Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla is a contrarian, and as Jeff Bezos recently said, contrarians are usually wrong—but when they're right, they hit it big.
I interviewed Khosla on stage this week at the 2016 Structure Conference in San Francisco and while most of the discussion was about the future of cloud computing, enterprise startups, AI, and big data, Khosla also dropped a bit of a bomb on the audience.
"A number of people have talked about AI, but I don't think people have talked about the magnitude of the change," he said. "If you look at most IT operations, 80% of their expenses—maybe 90%—is people. You could eliminate 80% of that with AI-type systems. Almost everything IT people do could be highly leveraged [and] maybe replaced by systems, by intelligence. And I think that will be exciting."
I turned to the audience, made up of IT infrastructure professionals and decision-makers, and said, "I see some faces not looking as excited out there."
To which Khosla said, "You're all in the other 20%, not the 80% that's automated."
Afterward, Khosla also clarified his remarks to The Wall Street Journal.
"IT is not about IT anymore," he said. "It includes IT, taking 80 percent of IT people out, whether it is IT support, whether it is IT operations or whether it is uptime. You will still need people to plug and unplug hardware when things fail. But maybe you don't even do that other than on a scheduled basis once a month. Today, people hurry to wherever the failure is... Scheduled maintenance is so much cheaper."
Khosla's conclusion was that "over 20 years, 80 percent of the [IT] workforce will be replaced."
Keep in mind that those are 80% of current IT jobs. The next-generation infrastructure will also create jobs in new areas that will be needed to run the algorithms that will replace today's jobs. That will include artificial intelligence, big data, automation engineering, software architecture, etc.
It's also important to note that this is a common theme of Khosla's. He also previously stated that 80% of doctors will be replaced by software. So, IT professionals are in good company.
Nevertheless, this is a topic that IT professionals and IT departments need to consider carefully because automation will undoubtedly bring serious change to how IT is run and potentially major displacement for IT workers. ZDNet and TechRepublic have collaborated to publish a series of special reports on this topic:
You can watch the full 18-minute conversion with Khosla here:
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.