By Thomas Shambler
From insurance and construction to journalists and movie stars, automation is set to take over some surprising careers
The robots are coming. Automation, both in the form of mechanised robots (human or drone-shaped) as well as artificially intelligent software programs, are predicted to get rid of a huge number of jobs over the next five years. A report by Citibank in partnership with the University of Oxford predicted that 47 percent of US jobs are at risk of automation, 35 percent in the UK, and in China, it's a whopping 77 percent.
Technology has already revolutionised many low-wage jobs, including farming and manufacturing. But now it threatens highly skilled, knowledge-based employees in some sectors. Deloitte estimates that 39 percent of jobs in the legal sector could be automated within the next decade, and separate research says that almost 95 percent of accountants will eventually be replaced by automation. But it's not just those in law and accounting that find their jobs under threat. While retail and manual labours will also see their job prospects decline, knowledge workers should be increasingly wary of their future. Here are the jobs that will be hit the worst:
The effects of automation have already hit the insurance industry. In Japan, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance has laid off 30 of its medical insurance representatives, replacing them with an artificial intelligence system based on IBM's supercomputer Watson. The software can analyse and interpret unstructured data – text, images, audio and video – faster than a human, and drastically reduce the time needed to calculate payments.
The automatic teller machines were the first technology to go mainstream and take away from human jobs, and today it's the smartphone app. AI smart apps can now conduct cash transactions, open accounts and process applications at a fraction of the cost and time it takes for a human employee equivalent to do it. According to Andy Mattes, CEO of financial software company Diebold, "It can do approximately 90 percent of what the human being can do, and it's going to be your branch in a box".
Keen-eyed financial analysts are used to spot trends before they happen, letting institutions adjust their portfolios and potentially make millions of dollars. But humans can no longer keep up with artificially intelligent analysis software. It can both read and recognise trends in historic data to predict future market movements. In fact, financial analyst jobs could be one of the worst hit in the automation revolution – an estimated 30 percent of banking sector jobs will be lost to AI over the next five to ten years.
Manual labour jobs are also under threat. Robotic bricklayers are soon to be introduced to construction sites, with each machine replacing two to three human workers each. The robot SAM (Semi-Automated Mason) can lay up to 1,200 bricks per day – compared to the 400 average that a human can do. While a foreman is required to help SAM complete more complicated tasks, other on-site construction jobs – such as crane operators and bulldozer drivers – can also expect to see their jobs filled by AI over the next decade.
As robots become more advanced (specifically, able to pick something up without crushing it) the supermarket employee restocking cans will be the first to go. Next will be positions that require a pair of eyes, such as managing inventory on store shelves. One robot – called Tally – is designed to automate this fully, and can audit shelves for out-of-stock items, misplaced products and pricing errors. Tally roams the aisles with multiple sensors, scanning shelves and alerting human staff of its findings. While robots like Tally don't come cheap, supermarket chains stand to save thousands of dollars over the long run, because robots don't need holidays or get sick.
Robots are getting involved in the farm industry in a big way. Robots can now do everything from milk cows to pull lettuce. A family-owned dairy farm Germany was the first to install the Voluntary Milking System of robots, which let cows walk up to the machines whenever they want to be milked. Other robots are currently being developed to do such tasks as weed cabbage patches and pick apples.
Traditional taxi drivers are feeling the effects of Uber and Lyft, but drivers of all three services are set to see their jobs replaced by autonomous vehicles. And it’s the ride-sharing companies that are doing the most to make it happen. Uber's CEO has said its automation service would be a lot more inexpensive over the long run and is already testing its own feel of self-driving cars.
China is home to a majority of the world's manufacturing jobs, but even it is looking to see its human workforce replaced by robots in the future. Foxconn – the manufacturer who makes everything from iPhones to Xboxes – recently replaced over 60,000 workers with automation robots. Over the last two years, 505 factories across Dongguan – in the Guangdong province – have invested over half a billion US dollars in robots, aiming to replace thousands more workers.
Not even actors are safe from artificial intelligence. Recently, Hollywood has taken to using advanced CGI techniques that allow deceased actors to be resurrected from the dead. Peter Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin was CGI resurrected for the latest Star Wars film. In the same movie, a 21-year-old Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher, also makes an appearance. If both studios and audiences embrace the CGI resurrection technology, there will be fewer jobs for potential movies tars – as beloved stars continue to 'act' in big blockbusters decades later.