What isn't a maverick position, however, is Gartner's warning that by 2020 the impact of labor reduction "will cause social unrest" and a quest for new economic models in several mature economies.
From 2020 to 2030, "you are going to see the first human-free enterprise -- nobody is involved in it, it's all software, communicating and negotiating with one another," said Diane Morello, a Gartner analyst, who has looked at how smart machines will reshape employment.
Morello said companies increasingly will recognize that smart machines are part of the workforce. "Human beings are not the only workforce," she said.
If technology cuts the workforce leading to a reduced consumer spending, who then buys the goods from increasingly automated companies? There wasn't a clear answer to that problem, said Morello. "Somebody is going to have to pay for the services," she said.
Smart machines may also help people adapt and learn new skills, but the challenges will require broad public policy engagement, according to Gartner analysts.
"It's definitely easy to see a dystopian future," said Nick Hansen, senior analyst for Discipline Growth Investors, but he is more optimistic. "The thing I keep coming back to is, there is always something humans want from other humans."
While the first phase of the revolution may benefit the robber barons, or in this case the Silicon Valley titans, Hansen said, "eventually there is a huge economic potential that actually dwarfs the initial potential" as people figure out how "to tap into all these unused resources" or people idled by changes.
Eugene Pate, an IT manager at a consumer packaged goods company, said he can see the impact of automation coming , but he questioned the extent of it.
"We're a society of humans, and we would like to stay that way," Pate said.
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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