Interview: Will AI Replace the Networking Engineers?

In the second half of my chat with David Bombal we focused on automation and AI in networking. Even though we discussed many things, including the dangers of doing a repeatable job, and how to make yourself unique, David chose a nice click-bait headline Will AI Replace the Networking Engineers?. According to Betteridge’s law of headlines the answer is still NO, but it’s obvious AI will replace the low-level easy-to-automate jobs (as textile workers found out almost 200 years ago).

While pondering that statement, keep in mind that AI is more than just machine learning (the overhyped stuff). According to one loose definition, “Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions

Full disclosure: the web site with this definition had and ad for Lego Friends set next to it, making it extra-trusty. I couldn’t find a similarly oversimplified definition on Wikipedia… probably for a good reason.

Anyway, following the tongue-in-cheek tradition of James Mickens, here’s what’s hidden behind the AI curtain (among other things):

  • Expert systems: decision trees with a glamorous veneer.
  • Fuzzy logic: the same decision trees using probabilities instead of yes/no branching.
  • Machine learning: turning trees into a spaghetti mess while fiddling with random probabilities in decision pasta to meet the expectations of whoever put together the training data (slightly more serious explanation).

While I remain skeptical about the general applicability of the third approach (even though it does have some interesting use cases), it’s obvious that it makes perfect sense to convert some of the level-1 TAC procedures into an automated decision tree. Residential IPv6 troubleshooting project was in production in 2014 (unfortunately without the marketing machinery of a major vendor or VC backing), and I’m positive there are tons of similar problems out there just waiting to be solved (as opposed to being marketized by a disruptive startup).

Anyway, just in case you want to watch our rants, here’s the video.

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