For years now, some researchers have been anticipating that robots would take away jobs from humans. In the UK, Deloitte and the University of Oxford predicted that 10 million unskilled jobs could be taken over by robots. University of Oxford researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne estimated in 2013 that 47 percent of total U.S. jobs could be automated and taken over by computers by 2033.
Some experts say not to worry because technology has always created new jobs while eliminating old ones ones, displacing but not replacing workers. But lately, as technology has become more sophisticated, the drumbeat of worry has intensified. “What’s different now?” asked Leigh Watson Healy, chief analyst at market research firm Outsell. “The pace of technology advancements plus the big data phenomenon lead to a whole new level of machines to perform higher level cognitive tasks.” Translated: the old formula of creating more demanding jobs that need advanced training may no longer hold true. The number of people needed to oversee the machines, and to create them, is limited. Where do the many whose occupations have become obsolete go?
“I don’t think we have a good handle on this,” said MIT researcher Matt Beane. “The end game scenarios seem kind of severe. From here on in, it’s really, really, really going to change and it’s going to change faster than we can handle.”
Until recently, it was largely blue collar jobs that have felt the brunt, as technologies automated assembly-line work. Now, researchers are beginning to see that artificial intelligence, robotics and new disruptive technology are challenging white-collar professions that previously seemed invulnerable.
Look at FedEx. “They hope that by 2020 they will have a pilot center with three or four pilots that fly the FedEx fleet [of hundreds of planes] around the country,” said Frank Tobe, editor and publisher of The Robot Report, a publication that tracks and analyzes the robot industry. Or there’s education. “I invested in one company that uses robots to teach mathematics in schools,” said Dmitry Grishin, CEO of Russian tech giant Mail.Ru Group and head of robotics VC firm Grishin Robots.
Which raises the question: Will pushing labor onto machines open a new bright future for humanity, or a new variation on the Terminator series: Rule of the Robot Overlords?
Here are five professional jobs already being replaced by computers, robots, and AI.