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What Jobs Are Safe From Automation

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 12 minute read

Is there a chance I may lose my job? It’s something we’ve all wondered at some point, but never has the answer been more important than it is now. Human labor appears to be threatened by recent developments in robotics and software.

Some people think their jobs are safe because of the widespread misconception that automation primarily impacts low-skilled workers in factories. This is a really large error in judgment. Due to technological developments, even white-collar employment are threatened today.

It’s nothing new that technological advancements pose a danger to employment. Can you think of anyone you know who works as a projectionist, switchboard operator, elevator operator, or toll collector? The loss of employment is a fact of life, but the rate at which it is happening is increasing rapidly. Examining current data and future forecasts is the surest method to tell if your employment is in jeopardy.

What the Statistics Show

Patterns of layoffs emerge when experts examine both recent and past data. With this information, we may make educated guesses about which jobs may be threatened in the near future.

Predicting the long-term future of our human labor, however, is where things become complicated, since many experts disagree on a realistic timescale. What matters most is the rate at which developments in robots and AI will occur. Experts’ predictions of the future, although interesting, are still just that: informed guesses.

Statistics on Job Loss

Over 5.5 million manufacturing jobs were lost in the United States between the years of 2000 and 2010. The rapid decline in the number of people employed is being blamed on China’s increased industrial output by several lawmakers. A research from Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, however, disputes this. During that time, this report claims that 85 percent of employment losses were caused by technological and automated processes.

That industrial output increased despite a decline in the manufacturing workforce is a noteworthy phenomenon in and of itself. That is to say, production got more efficient with fewer workers.

Future Projections

According to research conducted by the University of Oxford, over half of all occupations in the United States will be threatened by automation in the next several decades. This shocking prediction also indicates that low-skilled, low-paying occupations are in the greatest danger of being automated away. There is no guarantee, however, that even highly qualified professionals are not at risk.

Another report, this one from the McKinsey Global Institute, suggests that automation might cause the loss of 800 million jobs throughout the world. The report attributes the decline in the human labor force to technological advances in robots and artificial intelligence.

You would be mistaken to assume that all the information included in reports and research is negative. Many of them try to gloss over the grim reality by saying that new types of jobs will be created as a result of automation. To someone who is about to lose their job to a robot, that silver lining may be a very small one indeed. Which of us, then, is more at danger?

Is Your Job on the Brink?

Automation and technical progress have had the greatest impact on the industrial industry. But there are other industries that have been hit hard, and with new technology on the horizon, many more will be at risk in the next several years as well.

Jobs are already in jeopardy.

  • Employee at a Manufacturing Plant. On the production line, robots are nothing new. The manufacturing industry was an early adopter of automation and robots. Manufacturing occupations have been among the most impacted in recent years.
  • Telemarketer. Almost all of the calls we get right before dinnertime are robocalls, right? A live salesperson on the other end of the telephone is a rare occurrence these days.
  • Position of a Bank Teller. Bank tellers’ numbers have been reduced significantly because of ATMs. Visit a bank, something many people no longer do, and count the number of tellers and other workers working there. Five to seven people are usually on hand at a given branch at any one moment. In contrast, even a modest office building twenty years ago would have included more workers than that.
  • Keeping track of stock and working at a warehouse. Amazon’s warehouses are the pinnacle of robotic automation. More than 200,000 people are still employed by Amazon, but much of the warehouse’s menial tasks are now performed by robots of various varieties. These robots assist with order fulfillment processes such as sorting, stacking, and packing but have not yet replaced all human workers at Amazon’s warehouses. Amazon intends to further automate the process, increasing warehouse productivity. Therefore, what happens? Still more human occupations are being eliminated.

Jobs at Risk

  • Cashier. The majority of us shun them as if they were the plague. There have been self-checkout kiosks in grocery stores and other merchants for years, and the stores have been so eager for consumers to use them that they sometimes send personnel to demonstrate how to use them. Human cashiers have not been entirely supplanted by self-checkout stations, but more and more customers are becoming acclimated to them, which is bad news for human cashiers.
  • Loan Officer, Insurance Representative, and Accountant. When there are questions to be answered, formula-based judgments to be made, or forms to be completed, automation is the ideal solution. This type of automation is shown by online tax systems like Intuit’s TurboTax and large-scale consumer-facing insurance solutions (a crucial reason for the increase in fundraising activity for “insurtech” firms, according to a study by InsurTech News). Obviously, not all of the work done in these professions can be automated; nonetheless, a reduction in the required number of employees is quite probable. As artificial intelligence systems progress, the influence on these fields will intensify.
  • Driver. Taxi drivers, truck drivers, and chauffeurs are all on the verge of being replaced by autonomous vehicles. True, this technology is not yet completed, but significant progress has been made in this department.
  • Food Service Employee From bartenders to chefs, every position in the food services industry is susceptible to automation. Rapid-service restaurants have eagerly pursued the prospect of automating their on-premises food preparation and delivery. McDonald’s is one of these businesses, and they have already put automated order kiosks at a few of its outlets. Even while McDonald’s claims this initiative is not intended to replace staff, one may question how long it will be before Big Macs are available from a burger ATM.
  • Journalist. If you often peruse the Internet for news items, you have most certainly encountered pieces authored by artificial intelligence software. AI has a long way to go, but it is now capable of searching databases, locating material, and compiling it into a comprehensible narrative. This blog article from GetVoIP provides an eye-opening summary of the potential of conversational AI, which might one day replace human writers and editors.
  • Security Officer. Sentries, or robotic security guards, are already patrolling in a number of the United States’ largest cities. If you imagine anything similar to Robocop sitting at a security desk, you’re mistaken. Consider more in the manner of R2-D2. These sturdy sentries may be outfitted with anything from thermal-imaging sensors to voice- and face-recognition software.
  • Delivery Personnel, Postal Worker. If you work for the United States Postal Service, FedEx, or UPS, you may have cause for concern. Implementation of automated mail and package sorting systems has already begun. Carriers and drivers may believe they are safe, but this is not the case. In the next few years, driverless cars – the automation challenge faced by other hired human drivers – will continue to pose a threat to their employment. If your delivery truck will soon be able to drive itself, it’s not unreasonable to assume it will also be able to deliver packages.
  • Financial Analyst, Paralegal, and Clerk. Any profession that entails collecting, sorting, analyzing, and organizing data is a prime candidate for automation. Since AI software systems are already connected to the necessary data sources, they can do these tasks more quickly, accurately, and efficiently than their human counterparts. In the next few years, as AI advances and evolves, these occupations will see significant employment losses.
  • Soldier. The U.S. military has been developing robotics and artificial intelligence systems in an effort to automate weaponry, fighter planes, and even ships. They have achieved success to a certain extent. With the deployment of certain intelligent weapons, missiles, and drones, there is little question that the military will continue to develop other systems along similar lines. The next obvious step would be to improve the autonomy of tanks, fighter aircraft, and maybe even deploy robotic ground forces. The majority of specialists concur that these automated weapons will not replace human troops on the battlefield; yet, it is logical that fewer human soldiers would be required in the future.

Jobs that are currently secure

  • Therapist and social worker In order to create relationships between patient and practitioner, this form of practice necessitates one-on-one human engagement. Robots and AI software will not be able to provide the essential services for this type of employment in the near future.
  • Dentist and doctor Watson, IBM’s AI supercomputer, was put to the test in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina. Hundreds of cancer patients’ data were entered for analysis and diagnosis. Watson suggested the identical therapy that human doctors had recommended in 99% of the cases. Although amazing, technology is still a long way from replacing individuals in the medical field. Today, robotics and software are mostly being developed to assist medical personnel rather than to replace them.
  • Pilot. The subject of whether or not a pilot’s profession is safe from automation is complicated. On the one hand, the military has been utilizing fully autonomous aircraft, such as drones, for many years. However, using comparable technologies on planes raises safety concerns. If self-driving vehicles still haven’t ironed out all the flaws, it’s unlikely that any airline would authorize unmanned planes to carry people without significant testing. Global delivery corporations, on the other hand, are investigating the use of autonomous drone technology to fly cargo planes. For the time being, an airline pilot’s job is secure; nevertheless, a cargo plane pilot’s employment is not.
  • Officer of the law. Given the preceding mention of security sentries, it stands to reason that a police officer’s work would be threatened by automation as well. Not so. The day-to-day activities of an officer include complex decision-making and interpersonal abilities that AI cannot mimic. Police officers’ employment are safe until extremely powerful AI systems can be integrated into robots.
  • Teacher. At this stage, the ability to guide the growth of other humans cannot be replicated mechanically. This appears to be one of the most difficult tasks for even advanced technology to do, as it needs knowledge in interpersonal interactions, human experience, and nonrigid judgment – qualities that AI systems have yet to replicate.
  • Engineer in Robotics. This one should go without saying. What career would be safer from technological improvements than that of its designers and engineers?
  • Software developer. Engineers working in the field of artificial intelligence have their job cut out for them. These systems will most certainly take decades to construct, and software experts will be in great demand. That is not to claim that all IT workers are safe. Although autonomous servers and self-programming computers are still in the early stages of research, it won’t be long before many IT workers face job losses.
  • Clergy. This is the one profession that will never lose a single worker to automation. Could you envision a robot officiating at Sunday Mass or a funeral?

Find out what these occupations have in common by comparing and contrasting them. Jobs that need lots of boring, routine work appear to be particularly vulnerable. In addition, it appears that robots and computers will be able to replace many professions that involve manual labor. Finally, information processing tasks are an excellent candidate for computerization.

However, it appears that positions requiring a lot of creativity or a lot of interpersonal skills are safe for the time being. Since these technological developments appear to be progressing at dizzying speeds, nobody can say what the future holds.

Even if technological advancements are occurring at a rapid pace, it will be several years before software or hardware can even come close to fully replacing the human element.

Putting Yourself in Position for the Future

In the company of somebody whose job is in danger of becoming automated, you’re likely to pick up on some anxiety and resentment about the future of work. That said, things need not be this way. Many workers have been made redundant by technological progress. 

Workforces of today will find new applications for their abilities since humans are versatile and have always found a way to thrive.

What Can I Do to Maintain My Relevance?

Here are four suggestions for maintaining your value at work. The trick is to be viewed as a valuable addition to the team rather than a relic from a bygone era.

  1. Just go headfirst into whatever the future may bring. Someone whose employment may be automated in the near future may find this difficult to accept. If you want to be recognized as a valuable addition to your organization, you can’t be too set in your ways or resistant to change. Instead, it’s best to take stock of the upcoming changes at your organization and figure out how you’ll fit into the bigger picture. It’s possible that the robot or piece of software that may replace you needs supervision, training, or upkeep of some kind. You could find a new calling here.
  2. Establish Connections Within Your Organization. When discussing professional development and finding new employment opportunities, the term “networking” often comes up. Here, the means are same, but the ends are distinct. You should cultivate relationships with the company’s middle management and decision-makers, especially those who will be responsible for implementing any automation-related changes. It’s understandable that many upper-level managers would be hesitant to bring up company-wide reforms that may result in job losses. However, whatever insight you can gain into the future of the firm and your position is invaluable in terms of positioning yourself for success.
  3. Take Part in the Alterations. Be active in the change, no matter the sort of automation that threatens your work. Master the subject thoroughly and position yourself as a trusted resource by learning all there is to know about the corresponding technology. The goal here is to make oneself as valuable to the organization as possible, and to provide yourself options in case your current position is eliminated.
  4. You should consider training. One is never too old to expand one’s horizons via education. Even if you don’t have the time to go back to school for a master’s degree in robotics or AI, there are still things you can do that won’t take as much of your time. Courses and certificates may be earned for far less money and in much less time at local community colleges and online schools. As a piece of advise, try learning more about something you already know something about. In other words, use what you know as a foundation to learn new things and adapt your skills for the jobs of the future.

Where Can I Get a Degree in Artificial Intelligence or Robotics?

There are a lot of great colleges in the United States to choose from if you want to study artificial intelligence or robotics. In order to train the next generation of robotics engineers and AI programmers, several of these schools have top-tier computer science and engineering departments.

Some of the best academic resources for robotics and AI research may be found at elite research institutions including MIT, Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, and Stanford University. 

While there are many other excellent institutions in the nation, it would be impossible to include all of them here. It’s also a good idea to research the specific programs each institution offers in artificial intelligence and robotics, since this can help you narrow down your options.

For instance, UC Berkeley’s Robotics and Intelligent Machines Lab works to mimic animal motion in order to include it into robot design. Topics such as robotic mechanics, AI, and cognition are studied at Georgia Tech’s Institute for Robotics and Intelligent Machines.

Bottom Line

No of our wishes, technological progress will continue. The only constant is that everything must eventually change. There’s a lot of uncertainty and fear involved in the prospect of losing your job to a robot or a computer program. New chances may arise to replace the ones that have been lost, but only if you approach your position with the appropriate frame of mind.

Keep in mind that resisting change is futile; it will go nowhere. Find your niche in the workforce of the future instead. Take stock of your strengths and areas for improvement, and put yourself in a position to take advantage of any future job opportunities that arise. Best wishes!

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