Over the past year, there has been an extensive national discussion on the large number of jobs that the United States has lost. Politicians from both sides of the aisle are feverishly debating how to get them back. Renegotiating trade deals, import tariffs, closing overseas tax loopholes – everything is on the table.
What if I told you these policy debates were all for show, and these jobs were never coming back? Not because of cheap overseas labor or a favorable regulatory environment, but because global corporations had discovered a replacement. Such replacement did not require health insurance, paid time off, retirement contributions, or training? The reality is that the global economy is on the cusp of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution that will even leave white-collar, highly specialized professions vulnerable to extinction.
Here are some alarming projections for the next generation of workers. Within five years, an estimated 6% of all American jobs will be replaced by a robot.
With an American labor force of 152 million, a 6% decline amounts to 9 million jobs lost! Time is not a friend to the workforce. Over an eight year period, up to 25% of American jobs will be eliminated. And according to Oxford University, 35% of all jobs will be replaced by AI in the next 20 years.
Ten shocking professions that could be replaced with AI in the coming decade
In addition to requiring an advanced degree and years of on-the-job training, surgeons must carry the burden of performing high-risk, life-saving procedures. Even the most highly-skilled surgeons are prone to human error; requiring hospitals and out-patient surgery centers to carry costly insurance plans.
Enter surgical robots, which will be available 24/7 and calibrated to operate with laser-like precision. The transition may already be underway as Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust has employed surgical robots to operate side-by-side with human doctors during kidney surgeries. In theory, robots can perform faster than human doctors, without emotion, exhaustion, or pressure.
The 2016 movie Passengers gives us a glimpse into the future as a patient in critical condition undergoes multiple complex surgeries simultaneously in a robot-operated pod. Surgical robots may increase the likelihood of survival in emergency situations as they can be programmed to perform the roles of different surgeons at the same time.
2. TeachersWhile many of us have fond memories of our favorite, most inspiring teacher, children of the future may be dependent on robots for learning. Given the amazing benefits of a personal relationship between student and teacher, it is hard to imagine relying on AI for education. Nevertheless, robotic teachers present an enormous opportunity to improve our flailing education system. The computer technology already exists to conduct one-on-one tutoring and host group discussions. The educational knowledge contained within a computer system is exponentially greater than the capabilities of the human mind.
The analytical abilities of robots would allow for unrivaled insight into students’ knowledge base and, as a result, would make standardized testing obsolete. From an economic standpoint, insolvent state and local governments could employ robots to reduce the costs associated with generous health care and pension benefits enjoyed by teachers. Children of the future may, in fact, look back on a robot as the greatest inspiration of their life.
3. Police OfficersFew professions are more hazardous and publicly scrutinized as law enforcement officers. Robotic police officers could reduce casualties and help solve the widespread feelings of discriminatory law enforcement in minority communities. Additionally, AI would drastically reduce cases of human error caused by emotion and exhaustion.
Robotic police officers have been sci-fi fantasy since the 1987 blockbuster movie RoboCop. Thirty years later, remote-controlled robotic technology is commonly employed in the Middle East by the U.S. military. Advanced weaponry such as unmanned aerial drones and robots designed to clear Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are staples of the war on terror.
Unlike many other professions that are embracing AI, there is a notable resistance among the military/law enforcement industry. Just five years ago, the U.S. Department of Defense signed a development ban on “autonomous and semi-autonomous” weaponry. The primary concern is that it would be impossible to hold AI accountable for the lethal force it employs. While a valid point, the chance to drastically reduce human casualties could ultimately tip the scales.
4. Commercial Airline Pilots
Surprisingly, there is little buzz over the great leaps in AI technology in commercial piloting. Obviously, AI is making waves in the automobile industry, as Tesla has launched three driverless vehicles that are fully autonomous. Add in remote-controlled drones and autopilot features on commercial flights, and pilotless airliners are an inevitable leap over the next decade.
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is developing a system that will replace copilots with AI. The program, called the Aircrew Labor In-cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), even allows the AI to manipulate the plane’s primary flight controls.
Lastly, Chinese drone manufacturer EHang plans to roll out a self-driving hover-taxi that can carry one passenger, travel up to 100 kilometers, and fly for up to 30 minutes. Clearly, the technology is almost there, and pilotless commercial flights will be here sooner rather than later.
5. PharmacistsIn the next few years, picking up your prescription may be more like grabbing a soda from the office vending machine. AI has already taken root in the pharmaceutical world, with hospitals employing massive, automated machines to quickly fill prescriptions. Large pharmacy chains have procured smaller systems that are analogous to vending machines.
The major benefits of pharmaceutical robots are the reduction of human error, increased patient safety, and freeing up human pharmacists to emphasize patient interaction. Automation is especially appealing to hospitals and pharmacy chains as it has the potential to greatly reduce operating expenses related to government regulations and continuing education for employees.
It is highly likely that the next milestone in space exploration will not be achieved by man, but rather by an autonomous or semi-autonomous robot.
The AI advances in transportation are well documented in this article. Along those same lines, Google and NASA have already deployed robots to the International Space Station. Furthermore, NASA has been using automated exploration rovers on Mars for a decade.
Robots have many advantages over humans pertaining to space exploration. Obviously, robots can travel further than humans over substantially longer periods of time. In addition, robots can handle extreme conditions that the human body cannot. Perhaps most significant is that scientists can take greater risks with robots, as the legitimate moral and ethical concerns associated with risking a human life will not be an issue.
Obviously, this will not affect a large number of jobs. However, astronauts once occupied the dreams of millions of children worldwide. Unfortunately, AI will fill this role in the foreseeable future.
7. BartendersAfter a long day of work, you pull up a seat at the local watering hole. Grab a handful of peanuts and ask the bartender for scotch on the rocks. The bartender quickly rolls away, dispenses liquor, spins 180 degrees, and slides you the drink down the slick wooden counter. After a routine body scan, the robot projects the client’s personality based on clothing, appearance, and dialect. Then, it cycles through hundreds of pre-planned questions based on the client’s projected personality, and asks, “Did you see the big game last night?”
This reality may be many years off for most of America, but AI is already finding its way into high-end bars. For instance, a robotic bar can be found aboard Royal Caribbean’s cruise ship Anthem of the Seas. Clients place orders on a tablet and the robotic arms can create any cocktail upon request. The debate centers on the preference for cheap, efficient labor over a more sociable experience. It is difficult to imagine robotic bartenders in rural, blue-collar America, it is certainly conceivable to see these systems springing up in trendy urban centers along the east and west coasts.
8. Poker DealersParadise Entertainment and Hanson Robotics have successfully launched robotic card dealers in Hong Kong and are currently marketing products in the United States. Named “Min,” Paradise Entertainment’s robot only has the ability to deal cards at the present time. However, the company is working to add enhancing features, including facial recognition and the ability to speak multiple languages with card players.
Hanson Robotics’ product, on the other hand, is more interactive and has the ability to make facial expressions. The transition to robotic dealers is inevitable in the United States, where casino profits are down due to online gaming and increased supply of gaming opportunities driven by a growing number of states legalizing gambling.
Replacing dealers will not have a significant impact on the overall jobs market, but it could bring hardship to casino epicenters such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Specifically, Atlantic City’s economy is driven by the gaming industry and automation will be crippling to a city that is already reeling and facing Detroit-like bankruptcy issues.
In the era of fake news and social media, the journalism field is ripe for an injection of objectivity and speed. The vast majority of online readers do not realize that they are already taking in content generated by software program. For example, Forbes frequently publishes sports, business, and politics content that is produced by computer algorithm.
These programs analyze online data, model effective and popular writing styles, and then generate a fascinating piece. The advantage to AI-generated news is clearly the speed in which content can be published. In a 24/7 news cycle where journalists strive to break stories first on social media, AI would produce content even more expeditiously.
To be clear, AI technology is not currently capable of replacing your favorite opinion journalist at the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. However, it is plausible that a software program could be tailored to utilize data from strictly liberal or conservative publications, think-tanks, or organizations. As a result, the content generated would be biased towards the data sources.
10. LawyersEnvision a legal consultation with a digital encyclopedia of statutes and case law. Not only could an AI lawyer perform expeditious legal research, but provide clients with a probability of success. The AI revolution is already underway in the legal field.
For instance, to project the outcome of U.S. Supreme Court cases, a team of professors at Chicago-Kent College of Law developed an algorithm that proved to be 70% successful with a sample size of nearly 8,000 cases.
With AI representation, legal specializations such as real estate or criminal defense could become obsolete. As the capacity to store and analyze legal data grows, robotic lawyers will master various specializations. Perhaps most importantly, AI could solve issues of income inequality in the legal field. In the current legal environment, financial resources dictate the quality of representation.
In the future, local and state governments can procure AI technology to erase the negative stigma associated with public defenders. Lastly, robotic lawyers will instill confidence in their clients as the legal analysis provided will be entirely objective and not motivated by profit, publicity, or human emotion.
The impact that automation will have on the global jobs market is nothing short of alarming. How will mankind respond when AI squeezes humans out of an already competitive jobs market?
One popular idea is to tax a company’s usage of AI. Bill Gates recently advocated for a robot tax, arguing that it could slow the transition to automation and provide additional funding for government relief programs. Billionaire Mark Cuban encourages students to pursue college degree programs that emphasize creative thinking. Cuban believes that majors such as liberal arts, psychology, or foreign language will be in greater demand after AI takes root. Others argue that workers must commit to reskilling and continuing education in order to concurrently evolve with technology.