Robots taking jobs in five years is BS, GE CEO Jeff Immelt says

The idea that factories will be automated and run by robots in five years is “b——-t”, outgoing General Electric Chief Executive Jeff Immelt said on Thursday.

Immelt was addressing the fact that worker productivity remains low, and while technology will play a big part in boosting that, he said warnings about a short-term wipeout of jobs are misplaced.

Jeffrey Immelt (center), executive at General Electric Corporation, attends a press conference in New York.

Erik Freeland | Corbis Historical | Getty Images
Jeffrey Immelt (center), executive at General Electric Corporation, attends a press conference in New York.

“There’s 330,000 people that work for GE and none of them had a productive day yesterday, none of them had a completely productive day. So my own belief is that when it comes to digital tools and things like that, that first part of the revolution, is going to be to make your existing workforce productive,” Immelt said during a talk at the Viva Tech conference in Paris.

“I think this notion that we are all going to be in a room full of robots in five years … and that everything is going to be automated, it’s just BS. It’s not the way the world is going to work.”

Companies should look to make their workers more productive through new technological tools, Immelt said.

Immelt did not mince his words, saying that those who have warned about such a short term hit to jobs have no experience of actually working in factory environments.

“Most of the people that think that work is totally going to be displaced are people that have never done work, I think if you’ve actually run a factory … you know most of this is just bullshit. And so, I would call myself more a realist than an optimist,” Immelt said.

Fierce debate has been raging recently about the extent to which jobs will be automated, and what impact this could have on jobs and society. Even if the short-term outlook is not that bad, several stories have pointed towards a longer-term impact.

Around a third of jobs in the U.K. could be affected by artificial intelligence and automation, while this figure rises to 38 percent in the U.S. by the 2030s, according to a report by accountancy firm PWC released in March.

Major technologists have warned on the need to prepare for the huge impact AI could have. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, for example, warned that humans must merge with machines in order to become relevant when tasks become increasingly automated, and even warned on the need for a universal basic income, an idea backed by many of Silicon Valley’s elites.

Earlier this week, GE announced Immelt would step down as chief executive with John Flannery, current president and CEO of GE Healthcare, taking over from August 1.

Immelt had been CEO of GE for 16 years, and said he felt it was the right time to go.

“There is never a good time or bad time to leave a job like this, but I really felt like the company, all the work that we have done … it was a good time for me, and a good time for the company for a change,” Immelt said during his talk.

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