Is Your Paycheck Safe From Robots?
Have you ever wondered if you were reading something that wasn’t actually written by a human?
Don’t worry, while I have been accused of being a “little stiff” given my accounting background, I can assure you that I’m very much a real person.
However, there is little doubt that at some point today you will read something that was written by a robot. The Washington Post has been using its own artificial intelligence called Heliograph for a couple of years now that even recently covered the Olympics. The Associated Press is also using robots extensively to cover corporate earnings.
But I’m not here today to tell that robots are taking jobs from writers. I’m here to tell you that robots are going to be taking jobs from almost everyone…
This is something that we all need to have on our radar.
An Oxford study conducted by Carl Frey and Michael Osbourne, which consulted with a panel of experts on artificial intelligence, found that 47% of jobs in the United States are at risk of automation over the next 20 years.1 I don’t know which number is more concerning — the 47% or the fact that it is going to happen within 20 years.
Seriously, this is scary stuff!
The 47% sounds like an absurdly high number, but when you start going through profession by profession it quickly does start to make more sense.
We can start with just a couple of the obvious blue collar occupations…
Truck Drivers – There are upwards of 3 million truck drivers in the United States who are clearly in the crosshairs of driverless vehicles. Not only will eliminating those jobs save money, it will save many lives by removing human error from causing accidents.
Fast Food Industry – Google tells me that there are 3.8 million Americans working at fast food restaurants.2 Nearly every one of them is at risk given where we already are with automated food preparation and self-serve kiosks. Those jobs are very important to the people that have them. And it will be brutal when they’re let go.
I could go on and on.
Waitresses, blackjack dealers, telemarketers and receptionists. MIT Technology Review estimates that 83% of the jobs that pay less than $20 per hour are at risk of being automated.3
And this isn’t just a blue collar problem. There are plenty of white collar occupations that are in a similar boat…
I can think of several off the top of my head.
Insurance Underwriter – Making an underwriting decision on whether or not to provide you with insurance (and at what price) is all about calculating risks. Who can calculate better, a person or a robot?
Loan Officer – If I owned a bank, I would probably prefer that the lending decisions be made by a robot because robots don’t have hearts or loan volume targets to meet. People can be convinced into doing things like lending money, and chasing a bonus might make them lend more. Robots see only numbers and percentages.
Accountants – This one hits close to home. The reason I loved being an accountant is because every business needed one. It was a profession that offered lots of different job opportunities. With accounting we are again talking mainly about crunching numbers where a robot that doesn’t take a salary is always going to get the job.
Don’t Press The Panic Button Just Yet – But Be Ready To Adapt
I’ve got two beautiful little girls growing up in my house. How am I supposed to position them for a fulfilling future if the robots are going to take all of our jobs?
For starters, I certainly get them to take a look at the professions that the Oxford Study by Frey and Osbourne identifies as least at risk from automation.4
A few of those are chiropractors, biochemists, orthodontists, interior designers, photographers, physical therapists, engineers and pharmacists.
Second, I think I will take a deep breath and relax. Although I do find it depressing to look at all the jobs that are going to disappear, I do believe there is reason for optimism as well.
If we think back to just over a century ago, 80% or more of the jobs in the United States were focused on agriculture. Today, that number is just 2%. Yet who wouldn’t argue that the quality of life for almost everyone is exponentially better now?
Yes, the robots are going to take away a lot of jobs. But I believe that we are also going to see entirely new industries spring up with entirely new jobs that need to be filled.
Just because we don’t know what people are going to be doing in the future doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to be doing something. We just need to make sure we head into the future with both eyes wide open so that we can adapt to whatever comes at us.
Here’s to looking through the windshield,
1Federal report: AI could threaten up to 47 percent of jobs in two decades, ARS Technica
2Number of employees in the United States fast food restaurant industry, Statista
3“The Relentless Pace of Automation,” MIT Technology Review
4Will you be replaced by a robot?, This Is Money