Could your job be done by a robot?
It’s a serious question. As big data, machine learning, AI and other technologies continue to advance at a furious pace, more and more jobs are falling into the category of those that could be automated and done by a computer or a robot.
Factory workers, assembling the same widget over and over again, used to be the only ones who had to worry about robots taking over their jobs, but no longer. Drivers, waiters, cashiers, customer service representatives, and a whole host of other professions are suddenly on the cusp of being at risk. Even some high-paying professional jobs, like diagnosticians and lawyers may find some or all of their jobs being outsourced.
In which case, the question becomes: which jobs are safe?
Oxford has estimated that as many as 35 percent of U.K. jobs are at risk from automation in the next 25 years. So what career path should you take if you want to be safe? They tend to fall into a few categories:
- Creativity and skill
Actors, artists, professional athletes, musicians and the like should be very safe from automation.
At this point, it’s nearly impossible for a computer to replicate creativity. A computer could create a painting or a poem, using other paintings or poems as a guide, but that’s not true creativity. Likewise, very few people are going to be interested in watching a robot play football or race a bike in the Tour de France; the joy of sports is watching the humans compete.
But even if you’re not a fine artist or athlete, any job that requires a high degree of creativity or skill will be safe. This includes writers, graphic designers, scientists, archeologists, coaches, photographers, architects, trial lawyers, physicians and surgeons and others.
Another thing computers are just not good at (yet) is empathy. Any job that requires a lot of human interaction and empathy is unlikely to be automated any time soon. Even though AI is proving that computers can take over simple interactions, like answering basic customer service questions or routing phone calls correctly, the likelihood that professions like therapists, which require a great deal of human interaction and empathy, will be automated is slim.
Jobs in this category might include veterinarians, counselors, nurses, dentists, fitness trainers, firefighters and police officers (which also require specialized skills), nutritionists, child care, clergy, teachers, and so on.
Automation is about addressing broad needs, so professions that are niche and require specific knowledge or fine motor skills won’t be falling to the robots in the near future.
A local tour guide, for example, wouldn’t be in high enough demand to be replaced by a robot. Likewise, florists, hairdressers and makeup artists must have fine dexterity (and a level of creativity) that robots aren’t yet
capable of. Some forestry jobs are also not predicted to be lost to automation, presumably because robots would have a very difficult time going where forestry operations take place.
Finally, jobs that support, direct, oversee, fix, or create the very technologies we’re talking about will be safe from automation.
Automated systems will still require oversight, especially at the beginning. Even if an AI system can take over the bookkeeping for a company, an accountant will still be needed to check for errors. Likewise, while a computer might be programmed to make ad buys for a company, a marketing expert would want to double-check that the purchases are aligned with the brand.
This means that while some jobs will be eliminated in a particular field, others will be elevated to the role of overseer. A large company might not need to employ an entire accounting department; rather, a single accountant could do quality control for the computer’s work.
Jobs that support the automation in various ways — maintenance, strategy, installation, etc. — will also be in high demand the more automation is rolled out.
And finally, the people creating, designing and inventing new robots and AI will, of course, still be well employed. These might include engineers, programmers, data scientists, and the like.
Does your job fall into one of the “safe” categories? If not, do you see a need to transition to a safer career in the future?