If You Work One of These 5 Jobs, the Robots Are Coming for You
Truck drivers, call center workers, and even chefs could all see their jobs replaced by technology.
Don’t let that headline alarm you. This isn’t a Terminator-type situation. We’re not talking about large, svelte androids bursting through the wall and tossing people around. No, we’re referring to the increasing advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and general automation that are allowing corporations—sometimes whole industries—to replace human workers with technology.
We’re not saying it isn’t scary or that you shouldn’t be worried. It is, and you should be. It’s just that the solutions here will lie more in the realm of public policy and a healthy public dialogue than in Sarah Connor pumping shotgun shells through big metal torsos. At least, not yet …
Self-driving cars are coming. In fact, they’re kind of already here. Google’s Waymo company and Uber have been locked in a furious battle for years to be the first across the self-driving finish line. It’s only a matter of time before all manner of taxis, shuttles, and even personal vehicles are being driven by a computer, with the driver along only in case of emergency.
Sure, any time there’s an accident—especially a fatal accident—involving a self-driving vehicle, it can feel like they’ll never become a mass market product. Just don’t bet on it. Meanwhile, self-driving trucks will completely rewrite the US job market. According to The Guardian, there are 1.8 million truck drivers in America, making it the number one profession in the whole country.
For nearly a century, truckers haven’t needed to worry about their job security, but if almost two million Americans (four million if you include all drivers) suddenly find themselves out of work, what exactly is going to happen?
Cooking is an art, one that can only be learned over years—sometimes decades—worth of hard work and apprenticeship … or by uploading a bunch of recipes and flavor data into a robot. You know, six of one, half-a-dozen of another.
As both AI and robotics become more advanced, robot chefs are becoming more and more viable. In fact, this article from Digital Trends highlights a few cases where they’ve already been built! One robot can flip burgers with alarming speed, while another, built using IBM’s Watson technology, can create delicious new recipes from scratch!
As the Digital Trend piece points out, a blazing hot kitchen is a terrible place to put any kind of computer, but that’s almost certainly a problem that can be overcome. Maybe the past few generations of celebrity chefs will one-day be seen as the last of their kind?
In the meantime, the robots may take our chefs, but they’ll never take out charming restaurant memoirists and our irascible, empathetic travel show hosts. RIP to Anthony Bourdain, who was both.
3. Fast food workers
We’re not only talking about folks being replaced by burger flipping robots here. We’re talking about all fast-food workers, including the folks who ring up your order and the ones who bring you your food.
Out of these five job categories, fast food workers are one of the only ones that aren’t just being threatened with replacement. Their jobs are already disappearing. You’ll have probably noticed at many large fast food chains that you can now order at a fancy touch-screen kiosk. The better those kiosks become, and the more restaurants they get placed in, the fewer human workers these chains will need to hire.
Some fast food CEOs like to blame their rush to automation on the workers’ movement pushing for a $15 minimum wage. Why pay workers more when you can pay a robot nothing to do the same job?
The bygone days when Henry Ford realized that it was just good business sense to raise his workers’ wages—in part so they too could afford to buy the Model T’s they were assembling—are long over.
4. Call centers
As manufacturing jobs continue to disappear throughout the country, call centers have risen to take their place. Sure, these jobs don’t pay nearly as well as those old factory gigs, but they still represent a sizeable chunk of the US job market.
Call center workers couldn’t possibly be replaced by robots … right? Anybody who’s been stuck in an automated phone system, desperately mashing “0” in order to speak with a real live person realizes the value that call center workers deliver.
Unfortunately, these jobs are also being threatened by automation. Already, chatbots are starting to take the place of live customer service reps. Using AI technology and machine learning, these bots are getting smarter and more helpful by the day. For proof, just see the increasing prominence of Amazon’s Alexa.
If there’s one upside to the demise of call center workers, it’s that this trend also affects telemarketers. People might be sad that they have to chat with a robot instead of talking to a real human being, but no customers are going to be sad to see telemarketers go.
5. Construction workers
Think about how many human beings it took to build the pyramids. Now think about how many it takes to build a modern skyscraper. People have been developing technology to help them build better and with fewer people for thousands of years. As robotics improve, that march of progress will continue.
Still, this is one line of work that is unlikely to become entirely unmanned. While robots may be better at the big parts of construction jobs, there are lots of little parts that require quick reflexes and great dexterity, the kinds of stuff that humans are much better at.
Robots are best suited for work that’s repetitive, which describes a lot of the jobs listed above but doesn’t really describe certain types of construction work. Work like bricklaying is something where the robots excel, but work like putting grout in between those bricks is an area where they do not.
Construction workers might be a little better set than truck drivers, but any major push towards automation in the construction could still leave millions out of work. The question isn’t whether robots are going to steal our jobs. The question is: Are we going to have a plan in place when they do?
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