Many experts have predicted that robots will take over 30% of our workforce by 2025. Traditionally, these job killers were predicted to only take blue-collar jobs, such as in the manufacturing or farming industries, or that they’d only do things that are known as the three D’s: dangerous, dirty, and dull. But with a rapid increase in artificial intelligence year after year, it’s clear that white-collar jobs are in jeopardy too.
Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, predicts that robots will reach human levels of intelligence by 2029. The most optimistic outlook is that robots will simply eliminate old jobs and create new ones, having a net-zero effect, or even an increase in new jobs. The most pessimistic outlook is that robots will take all of our jobs, turn on us, and kill us all.
Many are calling this the “Second Machine Age,” in relation to the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago, and the invention of the steam engine and the machine age. As Business Insider succinctly put it: “The machines of the Industrial Revolution overcame the limitations of human muscle, while the robots and artificial intelligence of today are overcoming the limitations of our individual minds.”
The Industrial Revolution did lead to more employment opportunities, but experts aren’t so certain that we’ll see the same result. Here are 10 jobs that humans might lose to robots in the future.
Automated driving is a trend that is already seeing real usage - both in the real world and in fictional satire (such as the hilarious HBO show Silicon Valley, where a character takes an automated car and finds himself driven halfway across the world, on an export freighter, in the ocean).
But big corporations, especially in the tech industry, are aggressively pursuing this technology. Google is expected to have driverless, self-driving cars operational within 5 years, to increase safety and reduce commuting time. Google engineer Sebastian Thrun told NBC News that, “Our automated cars just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office, and on to Hollywood Boulevard... They’ve driven down Lombard Street, and crossed the Golden Gate bridge.”
The logical evolution of self-driving cars will be in the taxi industry, where autonomous vehicles will kill thousands of jobs, likely for Uber, Lyft, and other taxi services that wish to eliminate human employees for more lucrative independent contractor positions where robots don’t require workers compensation and can’t sue their employers.
9 Lawyers and Paralegals
As noted above, white-collar jobs are in jeopardy of being overrun by autonomous, information-specialized robots in the future, just as much as blue-collar jobs. These robots will be able to review millions of documents that have traditionally been done by paralegals, to prepare for cases.
Future robots that have been “legally trained” will be able to create vast storages of case files, that are reviewable and are used to create briefs and reliable depositions. The analyzing robots use keyword recognition to sift through documents at rapid speeds, cutting down the time consumption of performing low-level tasks.
At a higher level, Ford has stated that quantitative legal prediction is another likely usage. Right now, attorneys are paid vast sums for their expertise in predicting the outcome of a case, according to past court rulings, precedent, and certain judges’ dispositions. Researchers at Michigan State University have constructed a model, however, that was able to predict the outcome of 71% of Supreme Court cases, effectively reducing a lawyers’ worth in those cases.
8 Financial Analysts
Just as with lawyers, the power to predict and store and disseminate large amounts of data are a key point for future robots. Many financial professionals - stymied by technical ineptitude, lack of experience, sleep deprivation, and other human errors - will simply not be able to keep up with the power and algorithms of these automated computers and systems.
Stefan Kip Astheimer, VP at wealth management firm Howe & Rusling, told Fortune.com that, “One trend in the investment industry has been the advent of ‘robo-advisors.’ These automated services are replacing personal financial advisors, planners, and stockbrockers.”
For example, investment optimizer app SigFig uses a client’s risk tolerance to create algorithms that use low-cost funds to diversify and manage investment accounts. And that app is already on the market, with a high success rate. Imagine what kind of algorithms future, more advanced applications could do in the financial sector.
7 Reporting and Journalism
One application of future robotics that scares all writers and journalist, is that these machines might take over their jobs, which have traditionally been believed to need a human touch to properly do. This comes in sports, financial, and other reporting facets.
For instance, Narrative Science specialized in robot-generated stories, and one of its clients is Fox Cable’s Big Ten Network. They use its service for baseball and softball coverage, because, “It’s considerably less expensive for us to go this route than for us to try to have our own beat reporters at each one of these games” (Michael Calderon, Big Ten’s director of media). After these games, scorekeepers send data to Narrative Science, which evaluates it and creates a story within minutes.
Since 2014, Associated Press has been running an experiment of creating corporate earnings reports, using data by Automated Insights and Zacks Investment Research. The process is almost completely error free, which beats human reporting any day. These automated sports and financial reports would free up budgets for media and advertising expansions.
As software entrepreneur and author Martin Ford said, “The hurdle machines have to cross to out-perform humans with college degrees isn’t that high.”
6 Online Marketing
Another avenue for writers is online marketing and copywriting. Learning to craft great copy and ads to draw in potential buyers and clients has traditionally taken years to master, but it’s also a necessary job with huge parts of company’s budgets being poured into marketing and media advertising.
Natural language software firm Persado has created an automated system that analyzes data with algorithms that determine what subject line in an email will get the best emotional response. Their systems can delve into a huge database of scored language, analyze thousands of variations of a message, and create wording that will perform the best, statistically, and get the best response. Citi and Neiman Marcus are already using the platform, and these robot-crafted emails have been said to have double the conversion rate as messages written by humans.
Another field that’s gaining significant traction is “programmatic ad buying,” where softwares uses information about potential clients/buyers to create the best prospects for target ads in magazines and websites.
5 Mailing Systems
One of the most talked about and seemingly science fiction ideas swirling around is the idea of automated mailing drones or systems, an idea that would turn the world into a real-life Jetsons episode. The idea is not that farfetched when you look at what the US government has been capable of doing with its killer and recon drones.
Amazon Air Prime, for instance, is a drone-based delivery system that has been in development since 2013. CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the concept on 60 Minutes in 2013, and the drones would be able to ship 86% of Amazon's products (any order less than five pounds).
Frank Tobe, editor and publisher at The Robot Repot, has stated that, “[FedEx] hope that by 2020 they will have a pilot center with three or four pilots that fly the FedEx fleet around the country.” This implies hundreds of planes/drones, and thousands of killed jobs. This isn’t too surprising, as FedEx has donated $1 million annually to FIRST Robotics, the program whose acronym means For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology. The company even advanced to the 2014 FIRST Robotics Championship.
The logical problem with these futuristic mailing systems is the practicality: the commercial use of UAV technology isn’t legal in the US. Also, how would these planes disrupt public air traffic? In March 2015, the FAA granted Amazon permission to begin testing its prototype in the US. Other concerns are private and public safety, and privacy. How will these planes and drones navigate around telephone wires, polls, and buildings, accurately and error-free? We can’t simply have metal drones crashing into wires and falling from the sky like some apocalyptic meteor shower, can we?
Robotic Pharmacy Dispensing is a new technology that is taking the medical world by storm. These systems are taking traditional human pharmacist jobs at an alarming rate, and show no sign of slowing down. UCSF Medical Center, for example, has automated, robot-controlled pharmacies at two of its hospitals.
The computers at the pharmacy receive medication orders from physicians, electronically, and then the robots pick, package, and dispense doses of the medication. Like using a high-tech conveyor belt system, the robots assemble the doses on plastic rings that contain 12 hours of a patients’ medications. At UCSF, in 2012, the robotic pharmacy system prepared 350,000 doses of medication without error in its first year alone.
These automated systems are also able to verify the correct dosage, compound preparations of chemotherapy, and fill IV syringes or bags with medication.
Although robots might not be flying ships into space anytime soon, NASA has partnered with General Motors to create some of the most futuristic android technology to date. The Robonaut 2 works alongside astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The robot helps prepare worksites during spacewalks, provides an extra set of hands for maintenance tests, and does other menial tasks such as cleaning and assisting in operations. Recently, Robotnaut 2 won NASA’s Invention of the Year.
Another, much smaller robot designed by the University of Tokyo and roboticist Tomotaka Takahashi, became Japan’s first robot astronaut in 2013. Kirobo, as it’s called, is a cute, anime-looking robot that arrived on ISS via unmanned resupply craft. It can differentiate between different voices, hold basic conversation, and navigate zero-gravity environments. Kirobo’s purpose was to see how well robots and humans can interact in space, and to assist in various experiments.
After holding the Guinness World Record for the first companion-robot in space, Kirobo’s first words in space was a play on the classic phrase: “Today, a robot took one small step toward a brighter future for all.” In the future, astronauts hope that robots will be able to venture outside of the space station to help make repairs or perform scientific duties.
2 Doctors and Surgeons
At the other end of the pharmaceutical and medical industry, robots are beginning to show advancements in detailed, minute procedures. Doctors once represented the ultimate human, hands-on profession that seemed robot-proof, but that’s not the case anymore. For instance, the FDA approved Sedays system, created by Johnson & Johnson, can deliver low-level anesthesia for procedures like colonoscopies at a fraction of the cost of an anesthesiologist. The machines are still monitored by doctors.
IBM’s Watson, of Jeopardy! fame, has demonstrated a very accurate diagnosis for lung cancer - 90% accuracy to 50% in human tests. The reason is because the robot holds much more data than a human, and can keep up with the most up-to-date medical data that is released, whereas it would take a human over 150 hours per week to review the newest insights and reports.
Surgeons also use automated robots to support in low-invasive procedures, such as hair transplants. There have been demonstrations of how robots could potentially remove tumors from tissue, and in the future provide microscopic detail during more invasive surgeries. If the idea of a robot working on you during open heart surgery doesn’t scare the hell out of you, then it’s likely that nothing will.
Probably the scariest (and most plausible) evolution of robots taking human jobs in the future, would be that of our armed forces. Look no further than Terminator to see the possible repercussions. And while Skynet might not be upon us any time soon, it’s impossible to deny the direction that the US government is headed, with unmanned drones and weapon systems already doing significant damage and having a huge impact worldwide.
The Department of Defense Advancement Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has already commissioned numerous high-level security robots for use in times of war. PETMAN, developed by Boston Dynamics, is a bipedal robot that is designed to keep soldiers safe from hazardous chemicals. It can jog, do push-ups, climb stairs, can hold hundreds of pounds of gear, and can replicate what solders might do in real life situations.
Another invention for DARPA, Atlas, was designed for search-and-rescue missions. It has a laser rangefinder vision system, can open doors, operate power equipment, and even shut off valves and disarm bombs. In 2013, Atlas took part in the DARPA’s Robotics Challenge, where it was able to climb a ladder, drive a vehicle through a course, walk through rubble-littered terrain, and even cut through drywall using power tools.
It’s impossible to deny the potential of these manless robots on the battlefield, but let’s just hope they don’t eventually turn on us. It’s a scary world we live in, and it’s only going to get scarier as artificial intelligence increases.