Big changes are coming to the labor market in the coming decades, as many jobs are at risk of becoming obsolete. Robots are increasingly replacing humans to perform the same tasks more efficiently and effectively. A recent paper from Oxford University believes that nearly half of all American jobs today could be automated in a decade or two.
Most of us aren’t prepared for these changes. Speaking at a think tank in Washington, D.C., Bill Gates said the following:
“Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses … it’s progressing. … Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set. … 20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.”
Until now, robots have replaced mostly those jobs that involved routine, repetitive tasks, rampant in admin and manufacturing. But thanks to the exponential rise in processing power, new technologies like driver-less cars and smart household gadgets are fundamentally changing the way humans work and view jobs.
Below is a list of 10 jobs at risk of being replaced by robots.
The UCSF Medical Center launched an automated, robotics-controlled pharmacy at two UCSF hospitals in 2011. Machines assemble doses onto a thin plastic ring that contains all the medications for a patient for a 12-hour period, which is bar-coded. Now, there are 25 of these robots who work around the clock, hauling blood samples, food, medication, bio-hazardous waste, and other materials.
2 Sports writers/journalists
Narrative Science can produce an online sports story from data within minutes. One of its customers, the Big Ten Network, which is partially owned by Fox Cable, says it uses the service for baseball and softball coverage because it’s cheaper.
“It’s considerably less expensive for us to go this route than for us to try to have our own beat reporters at each one of these games,” says Michael Calderon.
Robots can’t yet display emotion and empathy as well as a human writer, but they do know their numbers.
Robots can search areas that may be inaccessible to humans. Robots have been used to assist in rescue efforts in Japan and elsewhere. Aerial drones can provide aerial inspections or ROV’s, which can help locate underwater objects and determine the condition of bridges and pipelines. And of course, robots don’t get physically exhausted and can work around the clock.
Babysitting robots can recognize faces, tell jokes, and keep children from being lonely. Aeon Co., a major Japanese retailer, introduced a four-foot-tall yellow and white robot at a store in 2008 whose job is to babysit children while the adults shop.
Other models include the Hello Kitty Robot, which tells jokes, gives quizzes, and can track kids using a radio-frequency identification chip. Studies have even shown interacting with robots benefits autistic children.
Drones and other machines are increasingly being used in reconnaissance and combat missions. An example is the MAARS (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System), made by Foster-Miller, which has provided armed robots in Iraq. According to Wired, the robot is equipped with a GPS monitor; it can be programmed to differentiate between fire and no-fire zones, to open doors, and even to drag out injured bodies. Countries around the world are investing in similar robots.
With minimum wages rising everywhere, retail stores are continually looking to replace their human cashiers with robots. McDonald’s franchises around the world have already begun implementing touch-screens for customers to place orders and pay, making human labor soon obsolete.
Google and NASA have partnered to launch numerous smartphone-powered robots into space to perform chores that normally would have been performed by astronauts. Robots are replacing jobs on Earth, and in space now!
Google’s automated cars have driven thousands of miles without human intervention and have proven themselves to be a very safe alternative to human-driven cars. They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe. If Uber and Google eventually partner, that’ll be the end of traditional drivers.
Software can review and proofread documents in a fraction of the time at a fraction of the cost now. The New York Times reported that Blackstone Discovery of Palo Alto, CA provided software that helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000.
“From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out,” Bill Herr, a lawyer, tells the New York Times. “People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t.”
10 Tax Preparers
Tax preparation has become easier than ever with online and offline software tools. These services not only save time, but are often much more affordable than visiting a local tax preparation specialist or professional. In the future, most tax-filing services will likely become available to any individual who has access to the Internet, making the positions of a tax preparer nearly obsolete.
Clearly, the picture is bleak. However, experts are divided on whether robots will take away more jobs than they create. In a survey of 1,800 scholars and analysts, 52% of respondents took a positive or neutral view of the future of employment, citing that technology has historically always created more jobs than it’s displaced. The remaining 48% expressed concern, arguing that technology advances now threaten white-collar jobs in the same way they threaten blue-collar jobs.
Regardless which view proves true, what is certain is that the new jobs created will require much more education and skill than those destroyed. Not education in the traditional sense of rote memorization, but rather self-education and the cultivation of social and emotional intelligence. People will likely need to find other forms of work that require uniquely human abilities, particularly ones that involve creativity, critical judgment, empathy, innovation, and problem solving.
Experts agree that we as a society are in control of our destiny on this. We can choose whether we have a good outcome or not by preparing ourselves now.
So if you find yourself in one of the occupations at risk mentioned above, take strides to learn other trades or skills that you can fall back on. No one likes to think of themselves as replaceable, but it’s better to find out early and start looking out for new opportunities before the inevitable happens.