There’s A 47% Chance A Robot Will Steal Your Job

Half of us will lose our jobs by2033.

There’s A 47% Chance A Robot Will Steal Your Job

Josh O’Connor

A robot receptionist in Tokyo. | Chris McGrath/Getty

Half of us will lose our jobs by 2033.

Almost half of our jobs will vanish by 2033 due to robotics and computer automation, according to an Oxford University study. Another study commissioned by the real-estate services company CB Richard Ellis predicts that half the occupations we have now will disappear by 2025.

So who can expect pink slips during the Rise of the Machines?

Number 1: Factory workers and unskilled labor

Predictably, people who work on assembly lines, plantations and construction sites will be replaced by robots that don’t sleep, get sick or take smoke breaks.

Likewise, large-scale farming is a thing of the past. The American Farm Bureau Federation reports that today, just 2 percent of American workers are farmers. Trump won these people over during his campaign. But our economy doesn’t have much use for them.

Then there’s the restaurant industry, which employs 1.7 million Americans. As political pressure builds to raise minimum wage, companies are developing fully automated restaurants.

San Francisco’s Eatsa promises fast service — without the servers. | Justin Sullivan/Getty

Mid-skilled workers.

Typists, secretaries, ticket agents and bank tellers that “underpinned 20th-century middle-class life” were laid off en masse in the technology boom of the past 30 years, The Economist reports. But as processing power improves, new occupations come under threat. “Computers can already detect intruders in a closed-circuit camera picture more reliably than a human can,” says The Economist. So much for security guards. Android receptionists are popular in robot-obsessed Japan: She’ll be polite to you, and you don’t even have to be polite back.

Uber and Airbnb help people eke out some extra income at the expense of long-standing industries. Even this freelance income is threatened by driverless cars. Now that Amazon’s made its first drone delivery, couriers could be the next out of work.

A self-driving bus is demonstrated in Berlin. | Michael Tantussi/Getty

Professionals.

Highly educated workers and those with advanced degrees have long considered themselves immune from tech-driven job losses. But as computers get better, the consulting firm McKinsey predicts they’ll take 45% of so-called “knowledge” work from humans.

Take fraud detection, once done by accountants. It requires “both impartial decision making and the ability to detect trends in big data,” the Oxford report reads. “As such, this task is now almost completely automated.” And at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a computer named Watson analyzes data from “600,000 medical evidence reports, 1.5 million patient records and clinical trials, and two million pages of text from medical journals” to diagnose patients. That’s data mining a doctor could never do.

And the CB Richard Ellis report says that due to automation, “Process work, customer work and vast swathes of middle management will simply disappear” within eight years.

Who’s safe(r)?

For the time being, computer science remains a promising field, but it won’t be too long until computers can handle many programming tasks themselves.

The safest workers are in management and creative roles, says The Economist. But don’t forget technology put other creatives — like journalists and music executives — out of work when internet advertising and media piracy destroyed their revenue models. Bloomberg even got robots to write simple financial news articles. (Nobody noticed.)

These “safest” categories are also often the richest members of society, leading The Economist to conclude in 2014 that “anger about rising inequality is bound to grow.”

The 2016 election was proof of that.

What can we do about it?

My mother used to train factory workers for higher-tech jobs. When the government cut the state university system’s budget, her school chose to cut her department’s resources, resulting in less training for employees of business and industry.

“Our current education system hasn’t kept up with the rapidly changing skills needed as technology plays a larger role in jobs of all kinds,” writes Art Bilger of the Wharton School of Business.

Pingpad CEO Ross Mayfield says companies must also work to make sure we keep working. Pointing out that 94% of jobs created by the tech industry in the past decade is unstable “gig economy” freelancing like Uber driving, Mayfield suggests that techpreneurs start building sustainable job creation into their business models, now.

After all, a world of busy computers and unemployed humans is no recipe for a stable society.