"Self-healing" computers could be the answer for hard-pressed IT support staff, according to Ulster University computing expert Roy Sterritt.
Mr Sterritt of UU's School of Computing and Mathematics said computer networks could become so complex and difficult to manage that by 2010 it would take 200 million people, the equivalent of the working population of the US, to keep them running.
He said: "If these trends continue, it will soon become impossible for humans to effectively configure, optimise and maintain computer systems of the complexity we will need."
The only viable long-term solution was to create computer systems that could manage themselves, said Mr Sterritt, who has just been awarded a research fellowship with BT in Belfast.
He and his team will work with BT experts on autonomic computing, which uses models from self-managing biological systems such as those in the human body.
Mr Sterritt said: "The human body regulates vital bodily functions such as telling the heart how fast to beat and monitoring and adjusting blood flow, all without conscious effort. We need to develop computer systems that can perform similar operations on themselves, without requiring constant human intervention."