A study from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology suggests that nearly half of U.S. jobs could be at risk of computerization over the next two decades. The study examined more than 700 detailed occupation types, noting the tasks workers perform and the skills required.
By weighting these factors and the engineering obstacles preventing computerization, researchers assessed the degree to which these occupations may be automated in the coming decades.
"Our findings imply that as technology races ahead, low-skilled workers will move to tasks that are not susceptible to computerization, i.e., tasks that require creative and social intelligence," the paper states.
For example, high-risk sales occupations (telemarketers) do not require a high degree of social intelligence. "For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills." The working paper is available from the program's website: http://www.futuretech.ox.ac.uk/.
From assembly line robots, ATMs, and self-checkout terminals to voice-recognition telephone apps, each year intelligent systems take over more jobs formerly held by humans; which is confirmed by this Global Trends 2025 report. Experts warn that even doctors and government officials could one day be replaced by increasingly ‘smarter' systems.
In healthcare, intelligent programs already wield a positive impact. Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, describes in a YouTube video how patient-focused technology improves medicine. In other examples, the Artificial Neural Network helps Mayo Clinic doctors diagnose cardiac patients and many websites provide free medical advice; and even TV ads often disclose critical data.
The ultimate tool to replace doctors though, could be the nanorobot, a tiny microscopic-size machine that can whiz through veins replacing aging and damaged cells with new youthful ones. This nanowonder with expected development time of mid-to-late 2030s could eliminate nearly all need for human doctors.
Automatons that could replace politicians may be a welcome relief. The U.S. Congress debate over finances exposed the inadequacies of human governing when members stubbornly refused to consider opponent's views. Experts believe that A/I systems, circa 2040s, would have averted these debacles.
Naysayers, though, see allowing machines to make choices for humans as a threat to our dignity. They argue that we should not let computers replace positions such as law makers, judges, or police officers. However, in her book, "Machines Who Think", Pamela McCorduck argues, "I'd rather take my chances with an impartial computer." Experts estimate that by 2050, 50 million jobs could be lost to automation.
So, how do we solve this dilemma? As machines take over occupations, there is still much that humans can do to stay employed. Futurist Richard Samson, in his Futurist Magazine article, "Highly Human Jobs", suggests that human knowledge will continue to be needed for some time. AI falls short in areas that are too quirky, emotional, or intuitive to program. Humans still outperform machines in these types of jobs.
Samson describes opportunities in knowledge-intensive occupations. He cites as examples those who can create the electronic replacement of people; such as doctors who work with designers to perfect robotic systems that eventually dispense with the doctor; or the Stanford professors who created Coursera, a course that teaches millions of students globally, while replacing thousands of local teachers.
However, experts predict by the end of the century; or possibly much sooner, all jobs will disappear. Some believe the final solution will take the form of a Basic Income Guarantee, made available as a fundamental right for everyone. Futurist Marshall Brain in his Robotic Freedom Blog agrees with the idea.
America should create a $25,000 annual stipend for every U.S. adult, Brain says, which would be phased in over two-to-three decades. The payments could be paid for by ending welfare programs, taxing automated systems, adding a consumption tax, allowing ads on currency, and other creative ideas.
Arrival of human level automated systems marks a transformative time in history. Automatons promise a utopian future in a world filled with leisure and adventure for everyone.
Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.
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