Imagine a typical day where you commute to work, do some banking, grab a few groceries, and maybe pick up a video on the way home. How many humans did you interact with to help accomplish those everyday tasks?
For a growing number of people the answer to that question is zero.
Ever since mechanical looms sent the Luddites into a panic and Ford began sending horses out to pasture, technology has been taking over increasingly more complex tasks and pushing the jobs typically occupied by humans out to their own pasture.
The human workforce has always had to adapt to technological advancements but the exponential growth of today’s technology is creating a shift in the job market that’s never been seen before.
Manufacturing: Perhaps the hardest hit industry to date has been the manufacturing sector. According to US economists, computerized robotic arms have already taken the place of over 22 million manufacturing jobs worldwide. And that was nearly a decade ago. The numbers have continued to rise since then as automated production lines have become the norm creating a work force that doesn’t even require bathroom or meal breaks, let alone wages and benefits.
Banking/Finance: ATMs and online banking have taken a toll on the financial workforce as teller and banking assistant jobs dwindle. Withdrawing and depositing no longer requires human interaction and mobile applications are now available so you can even scan your paycheck into your account on the fly (assuming you still get a paper check). Stock markets have seen a decrease in traders due to the speed with which computers can conduct transactions and, in some cases, intelligently manage your finances.
Sales/Retail: Want to buy car insurance? A Caribbean cruise? A mortgage? It’s only a few clicks away. Need a computer? A gift? A tennis racket? Click. No need to even leave the house. As brick and mortar stores continue to virtually expand, traditional sales jobs have declined. This eliminates the haggling and pressure of face-to-face negotiations (though annoying spam emails are a risk).
Agricultural Jobs: Agricultural productivity has been increasing for awhile even as employment in the sector has decreased, and with the advent of smart gardeners and automated, self-guided farm machinery, jobs in this sector might be reduced to office managers and field technicians rather that actual labourers. Computers will plant, nurture, and harvest crops with efficiencies such as treating individual plants for insects or disease rather than treating the whole field.
Transportation: Google’s smart car and other computerized transportation systems could signal the demise of jobs such as taxi drivers and bus drivers. Some vehicles can already parallel park themselves. Automated mass-transit lines have already put some in this segment out of work. Even airline pilots and air traffic controllers could see drastic reductions as computerized navigation systems become more sophisticated and take over traditional human tasks such as guiding trans- Atlantic 747 crossings. Auto-pilot could take on a whole new definition.
Health Care: Robotic-assisted surgery empties out the operating room staff in favor of a single surgeon that remotely controls multiple robotic arms which can perform precise incisions and delicate surgical procedures while reducing the time spent in the operating room. Going in for a “tune-up” at a medical kiosk rather than the seeing your doctor at the clinic may not be far behind.
Arts/Entertainment: While people may not yet be lining up for tickets to see robots dance and perform, (actually, they’ve been doing that at Disney parks for years) computer advancements in robotics have made even “creative” jobs fall prey to the electronic revolution. Computerized sampling has already redefined the term “studio musician” and helped score many a movie soundtrack replacing jobs usually reserved for humans. Robot bands have already formed. Actors are being digitized and can be cast in commercials even from the grave. ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ performances could get very interesting in the near future.
Service: Customer service jobs have already been hit hard by computer encroachment and computerized robotics should continue their march through this job segment. You’re probably already booking your hotel room online. How long until hotels deploy kiosks in the lobby where you check-in, pay and have your magnetic key card dispensed? Everything from custodial maintenance to stocking the shelves at the supermarket will all soon be ripe for the next wave of the computer-controlled work force to pluck from the human job tree. In fact a restaurant in China recently unveiled a completely robotic service staff and robotics researchers have already designed a robot to correctly identify your preferred beer and deliver the frosty beverage to you with the top off!
Whether or not human jobs simply migrate to developing positions or will be replaced altogether is still matter of debate. But some positions and industries are already feeling the computer invasion and the door is opening for the march to continue on to widening applications.