10 Careers We’re About to Lose to Automation

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Finding ways to make work easier has been part of the human experience for a very long time. In fact, innovation is one of the major traits that make us stand out from the rest of the animal kingdom. And just like we phased out certain aspects of manual labor with horses, and then phased out horses with cars and other vehicles, now, it’s time to phase out people completely, and let the machines do all the work. Even though this transition has happened since… well, almost forever, this time it’s different. Automation today is like nothing what came before. Over the next two decades, almost half of all jobs in the US could be automated. Here are 10 of the careers that would see the largest influx of non-human workers.

10. Transportation

The transportation industry covers many aspects of our lives. But basically anything that implies the moving of some objects or people from one place to another is considered transportation. Truck drivers, airplane pilots, taxi drivers, public transport drivers, and mining vehicle operators, among many others, are considered to be part of the transportation industry. Now, we’ve all heard reports of driverless cars hitting the streets, and for many of us, the prospect of not having to actually drive our cars to work sounds like a great idea. But as you can imagine, driverless cars will not only focus on personal vehicles, but on the entire transportation industry. Some mines in Australia have already shifted their driving workforce from human to non-human. All 73 of their 240-ton trucks are automated, as are their rock drilling rigs, as well as the train locomotives that haul the iron ore for hundreds of miles to the port. As of 2016, Singapore has its own fleet of self-driving taxis. There’re only a few cars for now, with the company in charge of the automated taxis interested in collecting data at the moment. But if the trend takes off, this could become an increasingly common occurrence. Amazon, on the other hand, has begun using drones to send their packages.

The White House released a report in 2016 that estimates that all 3.5 million trucking jobs in the United States are under threat from automation. The first self-driving truck to roam on American streets happened back in 2015, in Nevada. A new driving technology called platooning allows automated trucks to form a convoy, with the leading truck dictating the speed and direction for all of the other trucks. This new technology is much more reliable, it’s less prone to accidents, and it saves a ton in costs. Now, the American Trucking Association believes that automation in trucks will not happen for a very long time, saying that human drivers are more reliable than computers. But others are more skeptical. According to some estimates, the freight transportation industry is set to save around $168 billion annually if they shift to self-driving trucks. This sum comes from salaries, which make up around $70 billion, fuel efficiency accounts for $35 billion, productivity is $27 billion, and $36 billion in accidents.

9. Farming

Worldwide, farming makes up for 40% of the entire workforce. But while in developed countries that number only reaches around 4.2%, about 50 countries around the world employ half, if not 75% of their entire workforce in agriculture. It is estimated that by 2050, we will need to produce at least 50% more food than we’re currently producing, and climate change can make many places around the globe drop their productivity by more than a quarter. These factors push for a greater automation of the farming industry. In the US alone, the market for automated tractors and other agricultural vehicles is set to grow from $817 million in 2013 to $16.3 billion by 2020. Goldman Sachs estimates that sum to be much higher, predicting $240 billion of automated investments over the next five years.

In England, a group of engineers have set out to prove that a field can be farmed from start to finish without a single human setting foot on it. Their project is named Hands Free Hectare, and will make use of a series of vehicles that will run completely autonomous and not remotely controlled by a person. Other researchers are looking into flying drones and their potential uses in agriculture. These “unmanned aerial systems” will be fitted with cameras and other special sensors able to detect the fertility of the soil, or how much water crops need, among other things. This data will then be transferred to the ground vehicles that, of their own accord, will go in the field and remedy the problem. Today, farmers rely on satellite images for this data, but the whole process is time consuming. It can take up to two week before farmers can get their hands on the information, and sometimes that information is faulty due to cloud cover or other meteorological phenomena.

Automation has also found its way on dairy farms, where machines milk cows individually. The animals have been trained beforehand, and every time they feel like it, they step on and the automated system does all the work. This way, the production of milk has gone up from 7.4 gallons per day per cow to 9.5. Others are looking at indoor automated farms, growing vegetables without the need of actual people tending to them. All in all, these technological advancements are made to offer us the food security we will need in the years to come, but at the cost of many jobs. Humans will, of course, still be working here, overseeing the operations and offering maintenance work, but a job that took 100 people to do will be done by only a few and a bunch of robots.

8. Manufacturing

Since 1980, the number of people employed in the manufacturing industry in the US has dropped from 18.9 million to only 12.2 million as of 2014. This growing unemployment, particularly in the country’s Rust Belt region, has left people feeling abandoned and ignored by their politicians. With more than 6.5 million people having to look for other employment, some had to turn away from a $25 per hour plus health benefits job to a no benefit, $12 per hour one in the service sector. Nevertheless, from 2010 to 2014, the number of jobs in the manufacturing industry actually rose from 11.6 to 12.2 million, but it was nowhere near enough to make up for the loss of jobs in previous decades.

Surprisingly enough, the United States is now producing more than 1.5 times more than it was in 1980, and the most it has ever produced in history, all while roughly a third of the workforce in this industry has been laid off. The reason for this is pretty obvious – automation. Today, it costs a factory roughly $8 per hour to operate a robot, compared to $25 per human worker, and that gap is only expected to widen. Back in 1980 it took 25 workers to generate $1 million in output, whereas it now takes just five people. One solution to this problem would be to give workers the relevant training of working in a digital factory, and face the facts that this will not change and most of those jobs will not be coming back.

7. Cashier Jobs and Bartending

Today, the US has 12.5 million fast food workers. But ever since they demanded the minimum wage be raised to $15 per hour, that number of employees is expected to drop. With increasing costs, fast food and bar owners are looking to automate many of those jobs. Republican Secretary of Labor Nominee and CEO of the company that owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, Andy Puzder, said in an interview that robots are “always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” As a result, McDonalds has replaced some of its cashiers with so-called Big Mac ATMs. Customers will no longer go up to the cashier and order what they want, but instead will do it from this automated panel. Somewhat similarly, a robot-powered restaurant prototype has been built in San Francisco. Completely on its own, this robot can grill the patty, slice and dice the ingredients, add toppings, as well as assemble and bag a hamburger, ready to be sold. It can make 400 made-to-order hamburgers in an hour. This robot can replace three full-time cooks, saving the owner some $90,000 every year.

And this robot isn’t the only one of its kind. In Mountain View, California, there’s another automated robot makes over 200 pizzas per day. As a result, the owners pay their delivery people $18 per hour, as compared to other pizza places that pay $8 plus the tip. When it comes to coffee, we have Briggo – an automated stall at which you can preorder your own favorite style of brew from your phone even before you leave your house. The phone app will remember your preference and anytime you encounter such a machine, anywhere in the world, it will make the coffee exactly as you like it.

6. Police and Firefighters

When it comes to the police, it’s hard to imagine a robot patrolling the streets. But earlier this year, Dubai unveiled its first robot officer. Now, to be fair, this Robocop will not be in charge of taking down any underground organizations, but it will be patrolling the city’s malls and tourist attractions. People will be able to report crimes, pay fines, and ask for information by working its chest touchscreen. The authorities aim to transform a quarter of its force with these robots by 2030. But as they explain, as the population of Dubai is increasing, the aim is to relocate human officers to areas that need their attention, while leaving these robots in charge of the safe places. Now, they could have simply opted to hire more police officers, but they’ve gone this way instead. The main advantage of a robot police officer is that it can broadcast a threat or a developing situation in real time directly to the control center and can direct police officers exactly where they need to go.

Now, when it comes to firefighters, the US Navy has come up with a robot called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR). They gave it a humanoid form so as to better navigate the narrow corridors and hatches of a ship’s deck and be on constant lookout for potential fires. It will be equipped with state of the art cameras and sensors, being able to recognize areas with excess heat or gas leaks. It will also be able to access areas too dangerous for human firefighters and could even interact with the crew for a better coordination. SAFFiR is still in its testing phases and it’s specifically designed to function on ships. But it’s not so farfetched to think that, one day, robot firefighters will be saving lives onshore as well.

5. Management

Being a manager involves a lot of work. Multitasking is essential, and there are usually a lot of things that need to be resolved in order for everything to work out perfectly. Now, while even the smartest of bots we have today aren’t very good at doing complicated jobs like managing, for instance, they do excel at doing predictable tasks. But if we think about it, a manager’s job, though complex, can be broken down to many smaller jobs that a bot can do. Researchers at Harvard came up with a piece of software called iCEO back in 2015. It acts like a virtual management system that can automate complex work by breaking it down into many individual tasks which it then assigns to workers by using all sorts of tools such as oDesk/Upwork, Uber, or text messaging and email. It was also able to put together a 124 page research report in a fraction of the time needed for an entire team of people to do.

After several test tries, they said that their software can be adapted to fit pretty much any industry, going from manufacturing, sales, quality assurance and even hiring, among many others. On average, the software can cut costs for a company by as much as 50% in its first year alone, and then another 25% in its second year. This type of software has the ability to learn over time and increase its own efficiency, as well as the efficiency of the company. So, even if you’re good at your job, you might not be able to keep up with software.

4. Pharmacists

Back in the day, the job of an average pharmacist was more complicated than it is today. Before medication was produced in such large quantities, pharmacists oftentimes prepared the medication themselves. Today, however, most of their job revolves around counting, bottling, and labeling the drugs, and of course, understanding the doctor’s handwriting. There are currently an overwhelming number brands and medications out there, and pharmacists, as well as doctors, find it increasingly hard to know them all. An average of about 7,000 deaths happen in the US alone as a result of medication errors, where patients are given drugs that they are either allergic to, or can’t use in combination with other drugs. These medication errors also cost around $16.4 billion annually.

Today, many pharmacies around the world are connected to a computer. This pharmacy software can look up a patient’s medical history, count the pills, create the labels, bill the insurance company, and warn the pharmacist for potential medication inconsistencies. And as time goes on these systems are getting better and better. Swisslog, a pharmaceutical company, has created a machine called PillPick that automatically fills in bottles of medication for every patient in the hospital it’s located in. With it, nurses have access to 24 hour coverage for any patient’s drugs, thus greatly reducing the risk of missed medication, as well as reducing waste and operational costs.

3. Lawyering

Contrary to popular belief, much of the work a lawyer has to do doesn’t revolve around spending their time in courtrooms, sweet-talking judges and juries. The bulk of lawyering revolves around drafting legal documents, assessing the success of lawsuits, and going through entire boxes of papers and documents, looking for evidence. This pre-trial procedure known as discovery was a job for junior attorneys, but over the past few years, this job has been given to Ross – a piece of software that is able to sift through thousands of legal papers and look for the one transaction out of place. Ross is also equipped to work with humans by understanding spoken English and give comprehensive and analytical answers. Another similar bot, Lex Machina, operates on statistics, as sort of “moneyball lawyering.” This software gathers all sorts of data like the legal strategies of the opposing lawyers, or the personality of the judge, and goes through countless histories of other similar cases in order to predict the outcome of the trial.

Some judges, on the other hand, make use of an algorithm called COMPAS. This software works as a questionnaire with more than 100 questions in which the judge inputs things like the defendant’s gender, age, race, personal relationships, criminal history, and other information which then predicts the likelihood of re-offending, or running away. Judges use this system to help them set bail and give out sentences. The actual algorithm is kept a secret, but according to a study, it appears that the software has a strong bias against black defendants. But while these bots are used to assist lawyers and judges, a British teenager has created a bot called DoNotPay which can replace them completely. To be fair, the technology deals with small stuff like parking tickets, compensation from delayed flights, or aid with government housing assistance. To date, this bot has helped more than 200,000 people. A law firm by the name of LawGeex that specializes in automatized contract review is completely automated. Their clients save 80% of the time needed, as well as 90% of the costs they would have paid otherwise.

2. Journalism

More creative jobs, like writing for instance, may seem safe from automation, but they actually aren’t. Writer bots have taken the news industry by storm as of late. Back in 2013, AI-powered journalism was still at the beginning stage and the most they were capable of writing were stocks and sports stories packed with data and information, but lacking in any narrative. But as of last year, news outlets such as The Washington Post or Reuters use the newest generation of writer bots. Now, even today, the stories written by this software aren’t as complex as the ones written by journalists with years of experience, but they have come a long way since 2013.

Editors create some narrative templates and key phrases for the bots to use, and when a new story arises, the bot correlates the information with the templates and generates an article. The Washington Post used its AI technology to cover the Election Day in 2016. With it, they were able to generate up-to-date reports for nearly 500 races. With this new tool they were able to increase their audience by targeting small audiences with a large number of automated stories. Instead of focusing on a big audience with an equally big story – which still needs to be written by journalists, but takes a lot of time – they instead opted on going small, but with a large number of stories. Editors can still tweak the automated story if need be, but the bulk of the work is done for them. For the time being, at least, journalists are safe from these bots and they won’t lose their jobs because of them. If anything, it frees them up to write their own stories better. But it is important to note that the stories written by bots today were mainly done by junior journalists not that long ago.

1. The Oldest Profession in the World

With the rise in robotics technology, it was only a matter of time before even the oldest profession in the world began to have some competition. And with the sex tech industry having some $30 billion at its disposal, it’s no wonder that there’s a race for which company will be the first to create a sex robot. One of the contenders is the RealDoll. The first prototype is named Harmony and she can wink, blink, and smile. Harmony can also hold a conversation about movies, books, or music, tell jokes, or recite poetry. She can even remember your birthday, your favorite food, and sex position, as well as the names of your friends and family. She is the culmination of 20 years of creating and designing sex dolls, as well as five years in robotics research and development… as well as way, way too much loneliness and pent up sexual frustration.

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Now, these sex robots are made to look and feel as lifelike as possible, having different body shapes and personalities, depending on the client’s preference. There are, of course, male sex robots as well. The technology is still in its infancy and Harmony is the only robot sex doll in the California company’s collection. In the future, they are looking to develop Harmony to have the ability to walk and recognize the parts of her you are touching. But she isn’t the only one out there. Another company, this one from New Zealand, also has a robot sex doll called Roxxxy with somewhat similar features as Harmony. While the technology isn’t quite there yet to outcompete with the real thing, experts in the field predict that by 2050, the entire sex industry will be revolutionized by robots.


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