Roos Mei

Your labor market most serious enemies may not be human competitors. It is likely a robot will try to take your job. Computers are getting more intelligent, so not only manual human labor is subject to competition from automation, but also many high-skill demanding white collar labor. What determines vulnerability to automation, experts say, is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar, but whether or not it is routine. Machines can already do many forms of routine manual labor, and are now able to perform many routine cognitive tasks too. According to an Oxford University study (conducted in 2013), automation may claim as many as 47% of current jobs by 2033. If the job is under the category of “routine job”, the probability of automation jumps to 77%.

A research undertaken by Deloitte, the multinational advisory firm, has shown that all sectors will be affected by automation in the next two decades, with 74% of jobs in transportation and storage, 59% in wholesale and retail trades, and 56% in manufacturing having a high chance of being automated. Drivers, tellers, cashiers, data entry tasks, and other routine jobs, which many of them are considered high-skill demanding jobs, like statistical analysis and financial modeling, are the most susceptible to automation.

The rosy view

Since the industrial revolution and the invention of the steam engine, it is common knowledge that jobs (mainly in the manufacturing sector) have been subject to technological progress, and other jobs (mainly in the services sector) have been created. This theory, which has proven to be valid, has always been used to calm the angry masses against the development of machinery. The same claim is presented now by some experts.

In 2014, British economists studied the relationship between jobs and the rise of technology using census data for England and Wales going back to 1871.

Their conclusion is cheerful: rather than destroying jobs, technology has been a “great job-creating machine”. Findings by the study, such as a fourfold rise in bar staff since the 1950s or a surge in the number of hairdressers this century, suggest that technology has increased spending power, and is therefore creating new demand and new jobs.

Mike Turley, global head of public sector at Deloitte, said “Automation will not displace employees overnight. Its impact is gradual and manageable and there could well be social or political resistance to the full deployment of technology in place of people, our wider research on automation also shows that while jobs are displaced by automation, new, higher-skilled and better paying jobs are created as a result.”

But…

The rate of technological progress, especially in high tech technologies has been going up, and automation may be taking over human labor faster that it creates new job opportunities.

To give a perspective of the differences in the rate of technological progress in the past and now: the steam engine, which was the flagship of the industrial revolution, doubled in power and efficiency approximately once every 70 years and quadrupled after 140 years. Today’s computers’ processor, (which is the steam engine of our times), doubles in power every 18 months, and becomes 10 times greater every five years. It’s a very different scale of advancement and it’s affecting a broader set of the economy than the steam engine did, in terms of all the cognitive tasks. Technological progress is happening a lot faster and more pervasively than before. That may mean the jobs lost to automation may outnumber those that are created from the process.

There is no consensus about the aggregate effect of present and future automation on unemployment rate, some have a very gloomy view that almost all jobs will be automated and mass unemployment will be created, some think jobs are created in the process, so there will be no major push up in unemployment, and some think that unemployment will gradually and slowly rise since technological progress is faster than ability of labor market to adjust.

How about jobs that are considered safe in this process?

Jobs that need creativity, deep social interaction and emotional touch may be hard to be codified.

The following list are some of these jobs:

  1. Programmers

The demand for programmer jobs is at an all-time high and just continues to increase. You can’t go wrong with this one. With huge opportunities and new openings being created every day.

  1. Natural/physical scientists

Another field that is safe from automation. Automation can aid scientists but can never replace them.

  1. Researchers

This is a job to stay. Although the data gathering/processing has been/is being automated, human personal insight and making sense of the data and statistical findings can’t be done by a computer.

  1. Doctors

This is a controversial one. Most people feel and it is happening to some extent since some surgeries are/ can be automated, but there are more to doctors than surgeries, which is the personal interaction and assurance that only a human doctor can provide.

  1. Teachers

Again, the personal interaction and emotional bonding with school students, which they will always need, can never be provided by a robot. A robot can provide learning, but not education.

  1. Sex workers

Despite the development of sophisticated sex toys and even full human partner-like robots, human touch can never be replaced by a machine.