These Jobs Are Safer From Automation Than We Thought

Jun 23, 2017

Good news for health care workers and truck drivers: Your jobs are unlikely to go to a robot any time soon, according to new research.

If true, that's good news, especially for truck drivers, which other researchers have pegged as an endangered species due to advances in self-driving technology.

Both truck drivers and health care workers like nurses and aides, are subject to constantly changing conditions, which are harder for robots to handle on the fly than more static, repetitive tasks, according to the new State of Automation report from research firm CB Insights.

Related: The Bright Side of Job-Killing Automation

Health care jobs, require "a high degree of emotional awareness and are highly dynamic," CB Insights analyst Deepashri Varadharajan, tells Fortune.

Similarly, the nearly two million truck drivers in the U.S., are probably in better shape than many thought for the next five to ten years, in part due to regulations, which will require humans to be on board trucks going forward—even if they're not driving.

"Although a lot of companies are investing in driverless trucks, we are still very early in this field," Varadharajan says. "Even if you see the technology taking off, you'll still need a person in the cab."

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And you will need a human operator both at the front- and back-end of each trip. Highway driving is more easily automated than for city driving, which is more fraught with challenges, she says.

Some 4.62 million retail jobs, including cashiers, are at "medium risk" of automation, according to the report. Some stores are testing the use of robots for inventory management and some customer interactions, but the larger risk to retail personnel is that more people shop online rather than in brick-and-mortar stores.

For this research, which looks at the prospect of automation over the next five- to ten years, CB Insights used government data to pick several categories of occupations at risk of automation and then examined related factors—including how much automation exists in that field now, investment and patent activity in related areas, tech development challenges, and the ease or difficulty of gaining regulatory approval.

Related: It's Time to Take AI Seriously

In some cases, including health care, technology will help human workers do their jobs more efficiently. Robots, for example, will be used more to move hospital supplies and gear around, so human health aides can focus on the patient instead of logistics. Virtual personal assistants, like Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri, could ask patients follow-up questions at home.

The 2.5 million Americans working in warehouses or moving companies have more to worry about in the short-term, according to the research firm, because advanced computer vision algorithms have already enabled robots to do a lot of this work.

Endowing software with better vision, natural language, and motor skills together are leading to an ever-more agile class of robots. And there is no shortage of investment in this area with companies—including Amazon (amzn), Microsoft (msft), Google (goog), and Facebook (fb)—all pouring billions into artificial intelligence research.

Related: Automation-Related Job Loss Could Make Universal Income a Reality

And tech advances that help robots better handle fragile items means more will be deployed going forward. Generally speaking, jobs that are highly repetitive are most at risk of being automated.

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