As a student, picking a career is a difficult task.
Not only do you have to know which professions are in demand, will pay you a decent salary, and are suited to your ability, you also have to figure out if your job will even exist in the next decade.
According to a recent US Department of Labour report, 65% of the jobs that people will be doing in ten year’s time have not been thought of yet.
Even more concerning for future flesh-and-blood workers is that many of today’s job are being taken over by computer programs or systems – which we will call “robots” for dramatic effect.
A 2013 study by Oxford University predicts that 45% of American jobs are at “high risk” of being taken by robots within the next 20 years.
IT professionals, engineers, and jobs requiring creativity and good social skills are safe for the foreseeable future – according to the study – while agricultural and postal service workers, sewing machine and switchboard operators, and data entry clerks and word processor typists were at the highest risk of falling away.
If you are deciding which career path to follow or move to, then you need to know which jobs are being or will be taken by robots, and which are safe for now.
Jobs being taken by robots
The UCFS Medical Center in the United States made headlines when it launched automated pharmacies, opening robotics-controlled dispensaries at two UCSF hospitals in 2011.
Computers receive medication orders from physicians and pharmacists, and robots pick and package the pills for dispensing. After operating for one year, the system had prepared 350,000 doses of medication without error.
Another company providing a similar automated system is Pillpack, which delivers medication to patients for a monthly fee. Pillpack’s robots are packed with a variety of drugs, and dispense them into plastic packets based on patients’ prescriptions before they are shipped off.
Chauffeurs and cab drivers
In February Uber announced it had partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to develop driverless cars.
The plan, ostensibly, is to remove the need for a driver to be in the vehicle when you use the location-based Uber app to pick you up and take you where you need to go.
Google is also working on self-driving cars, with working models already on the road, while Nissan and NASA stated in January they were working on autonomous vehicles.
The video below shows a GPS-based system driving an Audi RS 7 around the Hockenheim race track better than most qualified drivers could.
As of January 2014 – according to reports – the US military operated just over 10,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones.
The drones are mostly used for offensive strikes and reconnaissance missions, and have played a role in decreasing the need for human soldiers to engage with the enemy.
Between 2007 and 2012, it is estimated that the US and Britain executed 1,200 drone strikes in Afghanistan, Libya, and Iraq during periods of unrest.
The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also working on a humanoid robot called the Atlas. The machine stands at 6’2” and is initially being developed for disaster relief work, but experts say it could be equipped with weapons.
Sports and financial writers
Big Ten Network, partly owned by Fox Cable, got sports writers worried when it implemented a Narrative Science system that generates baseball and softball articles. The reason for removing human writers: it’s cheaper.
At the end of a game, scorekeepers email game data to Narrative Science which plugs the information into a computer. The relevant story is then produced.
In January the Associated Press also bypassed feeble humans by putting up a story about Google’s Q1 financial results, which was written and published by an automated system.
The system – developed in partnership with Automated Insights – is versed in the publication’s style guide and currently publishes 3,000 financial stories every three months. If needs be, the system can produce 2,000 articles per second.
That voice asking you if you are happy with your home security system is not a person, it’s a rather convincing piece of software.
One system helping companies “outsource without the accent” is Avatar Technologies, which puts together systems which don’t mind if you shout at then hang up on them.
The Avatar software lets an agent send pre-programmed questions and responses to a client, in the accent of the client’s country, based on a script developed by the company.
“After training and certification, Avatar agents commence dialing and pitch perspective clients using the soundboard to advance the sales,” the company states.
The video below shows how Avatar’s software works.
Jobs which may no longer need the human touch
Gordon Ramsay, we have found your non-shouting replacement: Moley Robotics’ robochef.
The robochef was unveiled on 14 April in Germany, and consists of two robotic arms fixed atop an oven. The robot cook works by recording human actions through motion capture, then repeating the movements to make a meal.
Moley plans to bring a consumer version to the market by 2017, which will include a vast recipe and cooking methods database, and an incorporated dishwasher and refrigerator.
Combine this with the fact that IBM’s Watson learning computer has now applied its talents to coming up with unique recipes based on a list of ingredients – Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson it’s called – and an angry head chef is no longer required to run a successful restaurant.
The video below shows the robochef in action.
Policemen, security guards
A company called Knightscope is building what some have referred to as a lite version of RoboCop.
The prototype machine, dubbed the K5, is designed to detect and monitor criminal activity and is fully autonomous.
At five feet tall, the K5 drives around neighbourhoods, parking lots, or similar areas and tries to predict when and where criminals will strike.
It doesn’t come with missile launchers or a machine guns, but has multiple sensors – including thermal imaging, license plate reading, and facial recognition.
The Time video below details the robot cop.
Butlers, hotel staff
What’s better than a butler bringing you a fresh towel? A robot butler bringing you a fresh towel.
Savioke’s SaviOne robot is a step towards removing the need for human hotel staff and butlers, with the small, mobile machine able to deliver 4.5kg of items to your room on request.
The SaviOne is currently in service at a few Silicon Valley hotels, delivering food, towels, and other items to guests.
Watch the video below for “service with a robot smile”.
Despite the fact there are often two or more pilots in the cockpit when you get on a plane, they do very little in terms of controlling the aircraft.
A recent article in The New York Times revealed that surveyed Boeing 777 pilots spent seven minutes controlling their planes during a flight, while Airbus pilots spent half that time.
“Commercial aviation is already heavily automated. Modern aircraft are generally flown by a computer autopilot that tracks its position using motion sensors and dead reckoning, corrected as necessary by GPS. Software systems are also used to land commercial aircraft,” the article stated.
The next step is for flights to be completely automated, or at least remote-controlled.
The US Air Force and Boeing are currently testing that option, flying remote-controlled F-16 fighter jets and using the aeroplanes as target practice for ground-based missile defence systems.
Would you get in a plane without a pilot, though?
The video below shows a pilot-less F-16 in action.
Self-driving machinery and flying robots will make their way onto farms, growing the food our replaceable race needs to survive.
A recent article in The Conversation explored the opportunities automated farming would bring, including: GPS-based systems which drive tractors more precisely than a human driver, robots which harvest vegetables and fruit, and drones which will survey crops and fields.
“[The robots] use sensor technologies, including machine vision that can detect things like location and size of stalks and leaves to inform their mechanical processes,” the article stated.
Jobs least likely to be taken by robots
According to the Oxford University report, these are the jobs least likely to be taken by robots in the near future.
- Recreational therapists
- Supervisors of mechanics, repairers, installers
- Emergency management directors
- Mental health and substance abuse workers
The study went on to state factors which will make it difficult for certain jobs to be computerised in the near future. If your profession involves these, you are safe – for now.
- Finger dexterity – making precisely coordinated finger movements to manipulate very small objects.
- Awkward work spaces – working in cramped environments which requires getting into awkward positions.
- Originality – coming up with unusual or unique ideas about a specific topic or to solve a problem.
- Fine arts – knowledge of the theory and techniques required to compose or produce pieces of music, dance, drama, or sculptures.
- Social intelligence – being aware of others’ reactions, bringing people together to reconcile differences, persuading people to change their minds or behaviour.