This article was not written by a robot. But a decade from now, it could well be.
When people hear the now-familiar refrain “robots are taking our jobs,” they tend to think of robotic arms replacing assembly line workers. But let’s face it, that’s so last century. The robots — or apps, or drones, or whatever other form they may take — of the 21st century will be far more ambitious. They’ll be gunning for our best jobs.
The first wave of automation in the digital age, the experts now say, arrived when software and software-powered machinery replaced people in many rote, repetitive tasks, such as affixing decals onto a car on an assembly line, or typing out forms in triplicate.
As long as that was the case, it was mostly the blue collar working-class folks and the middle-earning office clerks who had to worry about losing their jobs to a machine.
But the second wave of automation is a whole different ball game: It seeks to automate much more technical, much less repetitive jobs, or at least certain parts of these technical and/or creative functions. In the twenty-first century, there will be no such thing as a career that is immune to automation.
Take medical professionals for instance. Diagnostic robots will soon be able to replace them when it comes to assessing patients. Now this doesn’t mean doctors will be replaced entirely by robots; they will still be needed to determine a course of treatment and carry it out. But with one major part of a doctor’s job automated, the overall demand for medical staff will drop.
In this way, even people in the most in-demand fields could find themselves in unfavourable labour markets in the coming years.
Even creative, artsy jobs are at threat — see the part about robots writing news articles, below.
Researchers from Oxford University last year published a paper evaluating 702 occupations, and their likelihood of being automated. They found 47 per cent of occupations are at risk of being taken by machines by 2033, given technological trends.
The job with the highest likelihood of robot replacement? Telemarketing, with a 99-per-cent chance.
Check out 12 jobs you wouldn’t think are threatened by robots, but are:
Construction sites are a tough place for robots — the terrain is uneven, there are hazards everywhere, and the work sometimes requires improvisation. But then along came prefabrication, and now developers can build entire components of buildings in a factory before shipping them to the construction site. That makes it much easier to hire robots to do the work, and automation of construction is spreading rapidly, especially in Japan.
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 88%
There will probably always be room for human bakers at boutique bakeries that specialize in custom-made or unique items, but the days of waking up at the crack of dawn to make the donuts are coming to a close. An entire industry has grown up
around building automated bakery lines for food retailers.
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 89%
Reporters were among the earliest professionals to get hit hard by automation. Desktop publishing appeared in 1987, and the demand for copy editors and typesetters has been in free fall ever since. But the next wave of automation will take aim at the more creative side of the business: Reporting. The Associated Press this year announced it will use a bot to produce 4,400 articles on corporate earnings every year
. Pretty soon we can expect sports stories, weather stories and local crime reports to be written by bots as well.
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 55% (for editors)
This is a big one. There are some 4.4 million people employed as drivers in the U.S. alone — 3.5 million driving trucks, 650,000 driving buses and another 240,000 behind the wheel of a cab. Just about any of those jobs could be history in the age of the driverless car.
The arrival of driverless-car technology has been strikingly rapid; just 10 years ago, experts were asserting it would be practically impossible to teach a computer to calculate all the factors needed to pull of a left turn in heavy traffic; now Google and other companies are actively testing fully autonomous cars. The arrival of these vehicles on our streets, delivering our pizzas and taking our kids to school, could be just as rapid.
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 89% (taxi drivers, chauffeurs and bus drivers), 79% (truck drivers)
Two pieces of technology will revolutionize farming in the twenty-first century: Self-driving tractors and drones. Both technologies are in their infancy when it comes to farming, but drones will soon be fertilizing and inspecting crops
while self-driving tractors — likely much smaller than today’s tractors — will pick crops. That leaves little room for farmhands, though the Oxford University report suggests a low chance of farmers themselves being replaced (a less than one per cent chance). All the same, fully automated farms are now a thing
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 97%
Preparing for a big trial can take thousands of hours of poring through documents, work that used to be done by paralegals and associates. Now all that time-consuming work is being done much faster by data-mining algorithms.
“[Artificial intelligence] and robotics will revolutionize the legal sector,” says Tony Williams
, founder of legal consultancy Jomati. “Law firms will see nearly all their process work undertaken by A.I. bots, completely upending the traditional [law firm business] model.”
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 98% (legal secretaries), 94% (paralegals)
Pharmacists and their assistants used to spend countless hours counting pills and dispensing drugs. Now that’s all becoming bots’ work, as new technologies take over the counting and dispensing of pills, and they reportedly make far fewer dispensing mistakes than human pharmacists. Though pharmacists themselves will continue to exist, their technicians and aides could soon be out of luck.
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 92% (pharmacy technicians), 72% (pharmacy aides)
The arrival of diagnostic robots
will remove some of the demand for doctors’ services, but it’s unclear if that will result in less of a demand for doctors.
What’s becoming clear is that with new technologies many procedures carried out at hospitals won’t have to be. Some industry experts predict this means doctors will start making house calls again, especially when hospitals realize how much money they can save by reducing the costs of building and operating large facilities.
But future house calls will be different from back in the day
; doctors will carry diagnostic tools with them that will be instantly connected to hospital records and other databases. Essentially, the hospital will come to you. But that means fewer jobs for orderlies, administrators and other staff. This shift is probably still a few generations away.
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 91% (medical records technicians), 90% (medical lab technologists), 47% (medical appliance technicians)
Once upon a time, homebuyers pretty much had to go through a real estate agent and use the industry's database of houses to find a new home. But today, in the age of home sale sites like Zillow and Trulia, homebuyers can find out at least as much about homes available for sale online as they could from a realtor.
The role of realtors is shrinking, and many other real estate-related activities are also becoming automated, such as property appraisal. One analyst recently suggested that 95 per cent of a real estate broker’s job
can be better done by machinery.
In Canada, this process is being slowed by a real estate industry association that is fighting tooth and nail against the arrival of websites like Zillow and Trulia
. But as the world shifts more and more of its homebuying online, this trend will inevitably come to Canada as well.
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 97% (real estate brokers), 90% (appraisers and assessors of real estate), 86% (real estate agents)
For those of you frustrated with long airport security lines, there’s good news: Automated self-service security systems will make those a thing of the past. Well, maybe. People can line up in front of automated booths as well.
California startup firm Qylur is selling automated security booths that can detect suspicious-looking objects and sniff out dangerous chemicals. The technology won’t just be in airports; Qylur’s automated security booth screened fans at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Meanwhile, anyone who’s flown to a Canadian airport recently will likely be familiar with the passport-reading machines that are eliminating the need for a portion of the country’s customs officers.
Thomas Frey, a prominent futurist and head of the Da Vinci Institute, figures about 90 per cent of airport security jobs will be automated within a decade
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: N/A (84% for security guards)
If the idea of software flying you to your next tropical vacation scares you, you've got a few years yet to get used to the idea.
But the technology is on its way. In 2013, British Aerospace Jetstream flew a pilotless passenger jet through civilian airspace for 800 kilometres
, controlled by an algorithm that is much more than an auto-pilot: It can follow the “rules of the air” followed by pilots and has a detect-and-avoid system to prevent collisions.
So just as driverless cars are expected to make driving jobs a thing of the past, pilotless airplanes could make piloting a job for bots as well.
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: 55%
Next time around, it will be one small step for a robot, one giant leap for software coders.
For decades sci-fi movies have predicted that people will someday travel on enormous spaceships to distant stars. But in the age of robotic landers and explorers, the argument for sending people into space is becoming weaker. Not only is it highly risky, it’s also astronomically expensive and galactically difficult to create the life support systems needed for interplanetary travel.
It’s much easier to send a robotic explorer that needs no oxygen or food, never goes to the bathroom and can hibernate for years while travelling to distant celestial bodies. And if that’s not enough, NASA is actually working on a robotic astronaut
Humans may yet travel to distant stars, but robots, rather than astronauts, will get there first.
Probability of automation, according to Oxford report: N/A
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