The fear of new technology replacing one’s trade has been around for centuries. The term “Luddite,” for instance, first described a group of weavers in England in the 1800s who campaigned to destroy the machines that threatened to render their skills obsolete. No doubt the advent of the automobile put more than a few blacksmiths and carriage manufacturers out of business.
But while some workers are hurt by new innovations, the economy always seems to create jobs for people to fill. It is inevitable that certain jobs will be eliminated, but it is not yet clear whether there will ever be a day when the concept of human labor itself is deemed useless.
Current discussions about automation and working robots, however, does mean that virtually every industry will be impacted by the next wave of innovation. We’ve identified a number of ways that major areas of the economy, including some dominated by highly skilled and educated professionals, may be shaped by automation.
In the Roald Dahl classic, Matilda, Miss Honey excitedly tells the principal, Miss Trunchbull, about how her brilliant first grade student can “multiply large sums in her head.” Trunchbull is unimpressed: “So can a calculator.”
The mathematical capabilities of computers can be threatening to anybody who makes their living handling numbers. The more sophisticated computers become at arranging and processing data, the fewer people will be hired in certain number-crunching and bookkeeping roles.
One of the most compelling examples comes from Xero, the accounting software firm, which last year unveiled a chat service for customers to ask and receive a wide array of financial information from an automated bookkeeper. As described by the company, “the chatbot leverages machine learning technology and the $1 trillion worth of transactional data processed in Xero over the past 12 months to enable businesses to query their latest financial data, including who owes them money, when their next bill is due or how much money is in their bank account.”
Of course, math whizzes will certainly continue to play an important role in our economy. But their work will likely focus more on analyzing and explaining figures, rather than performing the more menial task of compiling and calculating. Yet even on this front, the improved intelligence from systems to deliver automated insights is providing stiff competition.
At Timesheet Mobile, for instance, our software eliminates the need for paper timesheets, as well as the task of compiling countless hours of labor that an administrator or HR person would typically need to track down from employees. Using geofencing technology, our system reduces the need for managers to physically supervise and monitor employees – and we continue to further invest in automation to meet the across diverse industries.
Although we won’t soon see robots defending the accused in courtrooms or negotiating the terms of a divorce, robots might get the job done quicker and cheaper if you’re looking for somebody to simply scrutinize a contract for services, for instance.
Legal Robot is one such example. According to its website, the program uses natural language understanding and artificial intelligence to break down legal jargon and spot problems before you sign any negotiation documents, rather than spending the time and money to hire an attorney.
Anybody whose main function is operating a motor vehicle could be forced to look for a new job very soon. The auto industry and tech titans such as Google and Uber are aggressively pursuing driverless cars in the hopes of transforming world transportation. The technology in self-driving cars will likely trickle into heavy equipment, which could lead to fewer jobs in the construction trades.
Automated vehicles and equipment are already contributing to a dramatic reduction in roadway and workplace fatalities and injuries. In addition, the driverless car will allow millions of Americans to spend their commutes either working or doing other things that are likely more psychologically and emotionally beneficial (reading, talking to friends, even catching up on sleep) – all the while eliminating any chances of road rage from being stuck in traffic!
While the healthcare industry boasts some of the most in demand and lucrative jobs (physicians have the highest paying jobs in the country), robots are going to play an increasingly critical role in medicine.
Machines have been performing surgeries for years and this percentage will only increase in the future. As is the case with cars, an automated surgeon reduces basic human error.
Pharmacists are also likely to be eliminated by automated dispensing systems that have been shown to reduce the likelihood of inaccurate prescriptions. Hospitals have begun using such systems with generally outstanding results. While some pharmacists are worried about their livelihoods, others in the profession have argued that having machines deal with pill-counting will free up the humans to devote themselves to more engaged, patient-centered work.
Just about any type of employee tasked with accepting your money will likely be phased out in the coming years. Many grocery shoppers are already paying for their goods at automated checkout lines, young people generally favor depositing checks through their mobile phone and fast food diners are increasingly punching their orders into kiosks.
There are definitely parts of the service economy, however, that will not yield entirely to true automation, simply because many businesses view the human element as an important part of their service. People go out to bars and restaurants to be around other people, including those serving them. Similarly, many people still appreciate the greeter at Walmart, the seasoned neighborhood butcher and the guy at the wine shop who knows your palate.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
The world is changing rapidly, but not without obstacles. Some experts have suggested we are at the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, a concept that provokes a great deal of excitement and anxiety, just as the first one did 250 years ago.
However, if history is any guide, the threat of technology eliminating work done by humans is likely overstated. Instead, technology will do what it has always done: change the nature of our work by making certain things easier to do quickly and by pushing us to make ourselves useful in new ways. These advancements aim to free up time spent on menial tasks, allowing more focus on work that requires creative thinking and strategic vision.