Automation will displace some workers, create new jobs, and propel industries into a more productive, efficient, digitised future.
I recently spent the day with a primary school class. While listening to children describe their aspirations for their future careers — doctors, lawyers, accountants, police, military leaders — I began to wonder how many of those jobs would exist in fifteen or twenty years. It’s safe to say that a few of these childhood aspirations might not make it to graduation, but now that we’re facing the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution, some professions might not either! Future job prospects are changing rapidly due to one powerful force: automation.
According to Adzuna labour market research, one in three Australian jobs are at risk of being automated by 2030. Lower skilled and manual labour roles are at highest risk of automation, but white collared workers will not be immune to automation’s disruptive power.
Here are some at-risk professions:
BANK TELLERS: ATMs of the future will do more than withdraw and deposit cash. Prepare for the bank of the future!
“The ATM of tomorrow is going to replace the teller,” Andy Mattes, CEO of financial software company Diebold told CNBC. “It can do approximately 90% of what the human being can do, and it’s going to be your branch in a box.”
WRITERS AND JOURNALISTS: Yup, even yours truly might be at risk of losing a career to automation. Even though the thought of robot authors sounds too close to science fiction for the near future, technologists have made significant headway applying AI to create content. In fact, the Associated Press uses intelligent software to write quarterly earnings reports! Perhaps, 2030’s bestseller list will be penned by I.Robot and friends.
TAXI DRIVERS: With thousands of successful miles under their belt, self-driving cars are on their way to replacing human drivers. In fact, the first driverless taxi system already exists in Singapore. Will any teenager in 2030 know the angst of passing the driver’s licence exam? Only time will tell!
FINANCIAL ANALYSTS: Artificially intelligent financial analysis software can outperform even the most sharp-eyed financial analyst. Companies of the future may entrust more of their portfolios to software instead of human analysts.
FACTORY WORKERS: Automation is already affecting the job market of manufacturing jobs. Factory workers will continue to be replaced by faster and more efficient robots. China, the world’s manufacturing hub, has started powering the assembly line with robots, leaving nearly 100 million workers at risk of losing their jobs to automation. One of China’s largest manufacturing cities devoted over $56 million to automation in the last year.
What’s the verdict on automation?
Lower skilled and manual labour jobs and tasks will most likely become a way of the past. Future generations will be required to adapt to stay relevant in the job market. People will be forced to migrate to other employment sectors. There is no doubt that automation, both robots and artificially intelligent software programs, will eliminate many jobs of today. However, like previous disruptive forces such as electricity, steam engines, phones, and the internet, jobs will be created to address the changing needs of an increasingly digital world.
Imagine a world in which humans are free from repetitive, dangerous and mundane tasks. Instead of spending our time data mining, we will have more time to think creatively! The world of tomorrow might not have human taxi drivers, accountants, or bank tellers, but what other jobs could be just around the corner?
Automation: Clearing the Way for Jobs of the Future
Well, surely the tech industry is safe from robots, right? Not exactly. Although the need for highly skilled professionals such as engineers are not in danger of being replaced by robots, they will still be greatly affected by automation. With automation engineers will be able to do more with less, which means fewer engineers overall will be required. Due to the elimination of other jobs, more people will also be competing for jobs in the industry. However, automation has the potential to improve the industry greatly.
Human bias can be significantly reduced or even eliminated with the use of automation, which should lead to the tech industry becoming more diverse. Workplace burnout will become a distant memory. Robots will allow for a much lighter work week. Automation will augment STEM careers, allowing engineers and scientists to perform better and achieve new levels of productivity and creativity. Now free of monotonous tasks, they will be free to focus on high level achievements.
Currently, human engineers develop design based on many factors: experience, creativity, and knowledge. These designs are tested and refined in a lengthy process. Automation removes the limits of the human mind from the process. AI engineers can render models from a set of design requirements much more quickly and efficiently than a human engineer. Automation will assist engineers in the optimisation process, perhaps clearing the way for former “non-engineers” like artists and designers to make larger contributions to the engineering process.
Even with the adoption of automation, engineers will still have great career prospects in the future. In fact, as technology continues to evolve there will be whole new and different engineering specialties in the future:
SOFTWARE ENGINEERS: Autonomous cars, robots, houses, games, artificial reality, virtual reality, apps, and any other form of technology requires software. Software engineers will be needed to program and develop code for such applications.
AUTONOMOUS AND ELECTRIC CAR ENGINEERS: Automation might make it more difficult for human drivers to get a job, but there will be plenty of jobs for engineers to design and build vehicles. As we become less dependent on fossil fuels, electric cars will become increasingly popular. Engineers will also need to build autonomous systems for self-driving vehicles, both for personal and public transport.
3D PRINTING ENGINEERS: 3D printing is revolutionising endless products and processes, such as home construction, food industry, medical applications and more. Engineers will be responsible for the operation, maintenance, and monitoring of 3D printers, not to mention designing new ways to utilise 3D printing!
TRASH ENGINEERS: While automation frees up minds and hands from some manual labour and repetitive tasks, the burden of creative problem solving will still be up to human employees. Engineering a solution to the ever-expanding mountain of landfill garbage is certainly on the list of future jobs for humans.
BIOTECH ENGINEERS: Although the labour of a surgeon might be outsourced to a robotic counterpart, there is plenty of room for human engineers in the field of biotechnology. Genome editing, food engineering, and human augmentation scratch the surface of the potential of biotech engineering. Now that the backbreaking work of microsurgery will be in the hands of robots, engineers will have more time to solve complex problems and to imagine new and creative ways to improve our world.
GENETIC SEED ENGINEERS: Future genetic seed engineers will be responsible for improving the quality and quantity of the food supply. From developing drought and disease tolerant strains of seeds to breeding more hearty and delicious livestock, automation won’t get in the way of a tastier future.
In addition to countless new engineering disciplines, there will be a need for teachers and training specialists for these new specialties. Not an engineer? You’ll still have plenty of options in an autonomous future!
Automation Still Requires a Human Touch
Automation will replace some jobs and create new ones, but many careers will simply just evolve. Regular on-the-job training will help employees adapt to evolving technology. It might take time, but eventually people adjust to new technology. Cassette tapes replaced records. CDs replaced cassettes. MP3s replaced CDs. MP4s replaced MP3s. The repercussions and reach of technological advancement are unknown, but we’ve been through it all before.
Take comfort in the fact that some jobs will still benefit from the human skill set, such as healthcare, education, and hospitality. AI is very good at mimicking human behaviour but is not capable of empathy. At least, not yet. Computers also require human supervision. Instead of viewing automation as a replacement to human activity, it can be viewed as a collaboration. Robots and sensors require maintenance, programs need development, and processes require supervision.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning facilitate rapid innovation. To stay current with evolving technologies, employees will need to embrace new job titles, skills, and even new industries. As we reach this new horizon, the future of many jobs is uncertain. All we know is when we get there, we’ll have our robotic pals to thank.
Innovation Lecture 2019 with Chris Vonwiller, Chair, Appen
This story is featured in the 29 August 2019 edition of The Warren Centre’s Prototype newsletter. Sign up for the Prototype here.
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