All the humans in the U.K. are talking about a BBC show, Panorama, that is asking Could a Robot Do My Job? The BBC has also build an interactive site where you can enter your job and see what the odds are of you still having it in a few years. It's based on a study of American jobs, The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization? that evaluated jobs on the basis of nine skills:
social perceptiveness, negotiation, persuasion, assisting and caring for others, originality, fine arts, finger dexterity, manual dexterity and the need to work in a cramped work space.
Ultimately jobs that require empathy and interaction with people, like nurses and social workers, are pretty safe. So are those that require creative or original thinking like designers, and those requiring "a high degree of social intelligence" like managerial positions. As for just about every other job:
As more advanced industrial robots gain improved senses and the ability to make more coordinated finger and hand movements to manipulate and assemble objects, they will be able to perform a wider range of increasingly complex manual tasks.However, manipulation in unstructured environments — like the tasks that must be performed by a house cleaner — are still beyond the scope of automation for the foreseeable future.
Clearly they didn't see MNN's post on the Roomba.Tell this to all my architect friends now doing other things. (Photo: BBC)
I tried out the tool on my previous profession as an architect and the conclusion was that it was a field that was unlikely to be automated. They probably come to that conclusion because it already has been; thousands of architecture jobs have been lost as drafting boards turned into computers. Where it used to take weeks to draw out repetitive elements like windows and tile patterns, now it takes minutes of copy and paste. They say my current gig as a writer is pretty secure too, but I have my doubts; computers are now writing sports and business stories, and to earn a living writing, somebody has to be willing to pay to read it.
Try it out with your job here.
Others are dismissing the whole BBC series as nonsense, noting that technology is creating more jobs than it is destroying. Writing for a computer magazine, Bryan Glick is disturbed by the "culture of fear" being spread about technology in the series.
From the invention of the printing press, to the industrial revolution, to the current silicon age, technology has removed the need for jobs that are typically low-skilled, administrative or bureaucratic. It's often pointed out that the jobs created are high-skilled, higher income jobs, and that these technological elites are benefiting while low-earning socio-economic groups suffer. That's an easy accusation to make but it's equally nonsense. Jobs are created at every level of employment - it just means that work that is often considered menial gets done by machines instead. Surely that's a good thing.
And indeed, history shows this to be the case; 150 years ago, 70 percent of the American workers were farmers. Technology has replaced all but one percent of them; thanks to the industrial revolution, the farmers became factory workers. What jobs will our kids have after the robot revolution?
Back in 1928, the economist John Maynard Keynes anticipated this in his paper “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” He assumed that by 2028 the economy would be so productive that people would only work about three hours a day, just to have something to do. The real problem was going to be figuring out what to do with the rest of our time. He wrote:
For the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem—how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won.
It didn't quite turn out that way, of course; instead, all those technological improvements created more jobs, and I suspect that in thirteen years most of us will still be working. But they will definitely be different jobs; The Economist, looking at the same study that the BBC used as the basis for its tool, also wondered what we will be doing:
These jobs may look distinctly different from those they replace. Just as past mechanisation freed, or forced, workers into jobs requiring more cognitive dexterity, leaps in machine intelligence could create space for people to specialise in more emotive occupations, as yet unsuited to machines: a world of artists and therapists, love counsellors and yoga instructors.
Sounds like fun. See you at the yoga class.