AI algorithms and robots are starting to be used in more jobs previously thought to be unimprovable by automation. For a few decades, we’ve seen low-level, easily automatable jobs in factories getting upgraded with robotic machinery, but now, automation is starting to impact more skilled workers; for example, pharmacists are now finding innovative new ways to use automation, despite many elements of the job needing critical and abstract thinking once thought to be incapable of being replicated by a machine.
With all the new tech that looms on the near horizon, is it possible that your job could be replaced in the next 20 years?
The Big Picture
One study by McKinsey estimates that automation could kill 73 million jobs by 2030. That’s an enormous figure to consider, and because of its far-reaching effects, there’s no single industry that can consider itself exempt from this influence.
That said, many analysts believe the loss of these jobs may not be total losses. For example, if most of the elements of a job can be replaced with automation, the job could be considered replaceable with a machine. However, the person who previously held that job may be able to use the new automation tools to free themselves up to tackle bigger, more high-level tasks. Accordingly, we’d see an increase in productivity and a dramatic change to the types of jobs available, but the total number of employed or employable workers wouldn’t change much. This presents other problems, of course, but it’s not as simple as an outright loss of jobs due to automation.
In other words, very few people will need to be concerned that AI is coming to take their jobs away from them. Instead, AI is a tool that’s going to upgrade our jobs, making us more productive, and allowing us to focus on more skilled work.
Industries Currently Being Automated
Let’s consider that jobs could be improved—or at least complicated—by the rise of AI and automation. Which industries are most under this influence?
According to one study, some of the most AI-influenceable jobs include data entry, new accounts clerks, tax preparers, insurance underwriters, hand sewers, legal secretaries, and radio operators. Some of the least likely jobs to be replaced with automation include emergency management directors, healthcare social workers, occupational therapists, and choreographers. That’s quite a diversity of industries to consider.
We can also look to anecdotal examples to see how automation is pressuring certain industries. For example, AI is starting to improve the accounting industry—though instead of replacing or rendering jobs obsolete, it’s automating tedious tasks that take accountants away from more important responsibilities. And “robot journalists"—automated writing algorithms—are now writing hundreds to thousands of articles every year (though these are usually simple reports, like on weather or stocks).
Key Factors to Consider
So what is it about jobs vulnerable to automation that makes them vulnerable in the first place? In the industries under the greatest potential influence, and in industries where AI is already taking over, we can note the following qualities:
- Predictability. First, the tasks that are easiest to automate are predictable. They follow the same formula, with minimal changes from one scenario to another. For example, assembling a sandwich is always the same; it’s always bread, meat, cheese, then bread, in that order. Driving is much less predictable; rogue elements like erratic drivers, unexpected pedestrians, and foreign objects can confuse even a solid algorithm with suitable detection capabilities.
- Repetitiousness. Other easily automatable jobs are very repetitious. They involve the same sequence of steps, over and over, rather than requiring different responses and approaches in every scenario. For example, an assembly line of sandwiches is more repetitious than making custom sandwiches based on customer orders, and that’s more repetitious than inventing ideas for new types of sandwiches. Roles and responsibilities that require people to think creatively or come up with new ideas aren’t repeatable, and therefore aren’t easy to automate.
- Low interaction. Another major problem for automation and AI is mastering the art of human interaction. Some jobs require a degree of empathy and real conversation—like in healthcare and therapy. While tech researchers are working on improving the conversational capacities of robots, for the time being, jobs that require significant human interaction aren’t directly threatened by AI. Even when they are, there will likely be segments of the population who strongly prefer engaging with humans over machines.
How to Set Yourself Up for the Future
No matter which industry you’re in, or what your job is, automation and AI are likely to affect your job in at least some way. It’s in your best interest to take action now so you’ll be in the best position to roll with those new changes, and build an even more exciting career. Try adopting more high-level responsibilities that require more abstract thought, and familiarizing yourself with new tech in your industry. The more skills you have that aren’t easy to automate, and the more capable you are of using and directing automation tools, the better poised you’ll be to work in a world where AI and automation are commonplace.