Robots have already replaced many jobs in the manufacturing industry. And the trend is continuing into new industries especially if they are dull, dangerous or dirty. Will your job be next?

Will You be Replaced by a Robot

Excerpts from Ignite Zurich Talk on 19 August 2016
The doomsday plots of many sci-fi movies has got people worried about robots taking over the world. From The Terminator, The Matrix to iRobot Hollywood has made a few blockbusters by evoking a future as robots or Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes over and leave us with a miserable future. Perhaps because of these movie, people’s fears have been raised about what impact robots will have on our jobs and careers.

Will we be left on the scrap heap, while scraps of metal do what we used to do?
The reality is that robots have already replaced many manufacturing and industrial jobs in countries where labour costs are high – Europe, North America, Japan especially in automotive manufacturing and electronic assembly industry. And the robots are on the march in other countries where labour costs are now rising; China, Korea, Taiwan. Foxconn suppliers to Apple and Samsung recently announced they replacing 60,000 workers with robots.

What about your job?
The next wave of jobs that will be replaced by robots are most likely to be jobs that are
• Dull
• Dirty
• Dangerous
And watch out if your job is all three.

The New Dull
Dull we’ve already mentioned with industrial robots and the next industries on the list are logistics, warehousing and food industry. But then there is the “new dull” of what is now repetitive white collar work. We have tried Siri, our iPhone’s” intelligent personal assistant” but with limited success. But soon someone will get it right and Siri’s daughters will be able to take over many more of the repetitive clerical tasks like booking travel, scheduling meetings. Similarly, there is software that can search through hundreds of documents, replacing teams of legal researchers. Beware of anything repetitive can be replaced from telemarketers to executive assistants

You may already have an automatic vacuum cleaner that runs around your floor picking up your crumbs, or a robot lawn mower that that trims your grass. While this is displacing a few kids earning pocket money it hasn’t made a huge impact on the labour market – yet. But anything we don’t like to do ie like clean, go down a sewer or into a confined, tight space, then robots are designed to do these chores – and we are happy to let robots do it.

As we value human life more than a robot’s, we are already sending in robots to defuse bombs and using drones instead of soldiers. The dangerous work is also an area where much research and money is being invested into robotics. Think of nuclear industry or security guards where endangering a person’s life can be avoided or reduced by using a robot instead.

Flip the Question
But let’s flip the question the other way around and ask “What’s going to be left?” These are the jobs where AI and robotics is going to take a long time to catch up to our human skills. These are jobs that require
• Social Skills
• Judgement and common sense
• STEM jobs

While the robots R2D2 and 3CPO banter and bicker away on Star Wars the reality is that it is going to be a long way off in the future until robots and machines can show this level of social interaction. So jobs like doctors, psychologists, teachers and mental health workers where human interaction is essential are unlikely to be replaced, in the near future, by a robot. But don’t get too complacent. For repetitive social interactions chat-bots are starting takeover for basic diagnosis of issues or providing information like in employee induction session.

A computer has been able to beat a person playing chess since in the 1980’s. However that same computer is not able to play checkers. The time when robots can make judgements, creative leaps, independent thinking and come up with new ideas is still a way off into the future. So look for jobs where you need creativity, judgement, innovation, flexibility and problem solving.

Of course someone is going to have to design, build, programme, test and debug all these robots. So STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) jobs are going to be even more important than ever before.

So if you are looking for a future proof job, there probably isn’t one, but definitely avoid the jobs that are dull, dirty and dangerous (and definitely jobs that are all three). Look for jobs that use social skills, judgement, creativity and innovation. These are jobs where it will be hard to replace humans with robots.
My final word of advice is that we all will have to reinvent our careers – whether it is because of robots or other changes in our rapidly evolving world. So the best thing you can do is to learn how to learn and never stop learning.