Law firms began experimenting with software to streamline document review in the early 2000s, and today there are well-funded entrepreneurs working on AI to replace the entire firm. Lawyers themselves are safe for now, but paralegals, who previously handled the bulk of administrative tasks, are another class certain to be replaced.
35 Jobs That'll Soon Be Lost to Automation
Workers have long feared losing their jobs to newcomers, but the threat has changed somewhat in the digital age, as robots -- not immigrants -- threaten to supplant as many as 800 million workers by 2030. Though some jobs are still immune to automation, advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are rapidly reshaping world industries. The jobs that follow are just a few of those poised to get automated in the coming years.
As with many jobs requiring only a high school education, cashier positions don't require a high degree of human analysis and so can easily by occupied by machines such as self-checkout kiosks. These have already become common in pharmacies and grocery stores, and fast food purveyors including McDonald's are adopting them as well.
Amazon is pioneering retail at its Seattle-based store Amazon Go, which eliminates checkout altogether and automates purchases through the customer's smartphone. With convenience stores and big-box retailers expected to follow suit in the coming years, this higher-tech approach will likely lead to more lost retail jobs -- it lessens the need for people to provide assistance at checkout kiosks.
Fast food companies use an assembly-line approach to streamline cooking, so even non-cashier positions can be filled by specialized automatons. The Bureau of Labor statistics estimates 80,000 jobs in the industry will be gone by 2024, as confirmed by former McDonald's chief executive Edward Rensi's thoughts on the matter: "It's cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an employee who's inefficient making $15 an hour bagging french fries."
Chefs aren't as safe from automation as most other creative positions; robotic cooks are already being used to prepare food and generate interest at restaurants in China. Meanwhile, 3D-printing tech that creates gourmet pasta and replica steaks is seeing varying degrees of success and implementation.
Toll-booth operator is another low-skill position already becoming automated. As many as 16 states now use E-ZPass, a cashless, electronic tolling system whose implementation eliminates the need for human workers to staff paid-access roads. At least seven more of the 34 states with toll roads have some other form of electronic tolling in place.
Though everyone's heard the buzz about self-driving cars, fully autonomous technology won't become common until the 2020s at the earliest, notwithstanding challenges of legality and regulation. When they do, self-driving cars may make obsolete almost 5 million human jobs dependent on driving, including truckers, taxi drivers, and tractor operators.
While most health care professionals can rest easy knowing patients prefer treatment from people, radiologists are at unique risk of being supplanted by machines that can analyze complex data from MRI and CT scans more efficiently. But despite companies including IBM and GE working toward diagnoses by artificial intelligence, at least some radiologists will still be necessary for the foreseeable future to design algorithms and interpret results.
Robots have begun writing the news, though their abilities are still limited generally to writing reports based on specific datasets. The Washington Post and UK's Press Association employ automatons to write sports and election coverage, and Yahoo Sports uses similar technology for its fantasy football leagues. Whether machines can generate more complex news analysis remains to be seen.
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation estimates that advances in live-translation technology will put human translators at high risk of replacement in the next decade. The complexities of language mean translators of the future will likely work side-by-side with machines to correct their output.
As with telemarketing, many companies have already switched from human operators to more cost-effective automated ones. Indeed, switchboard attendants may go down as one of the first occupations to be supplanted by robotics; companies began introducing automated attendants in the early 1980s.
Today, machines perform not just physical labor but cognitive tasks as well, with more and more companies employing software systems to input data, relay information, and optimize efficiency, as middle managers were once expected to. For a well-known example, look no further than Uber, which uses an automated system to dispatch human drivers and track earnings.
More than a million Americans tending to the nation's farmland may soon be rendered obsolete by specialized automatons performing all manner of traditional agricultural tasks, from picking apples to weeding lettuce. Some are already in mass operation, while others are in development to compete with the cost of unskilled (human) labor.
Machines offer considerable value over human competitors in grading and sorting agriculture as well as harvesting it, which is why the occupation is at high risk of automation. Spot-spraying automatons and optical sorting machines, which use hyperspectral cameras to analyze foods at a chemical level, are just two examples of innovations reducing the need for human labor in agriculture.
Assembly and manufacturing workers have seen perhaps the biggest impact from automation so far, as mechanized labor has become a more cost-efficient and often safer option. Eighty-five percent of the 5.6 million North American jobs lost in the sector from 2000 to 2010 were from machine-related "productivity growth." In China, a factory in Dongguan City recently replaced 90 percent of its human workforce.
In tennis, umpires have already been partially replaced by a computerized equivalent called Hawk-Eye, which uses high-speed 3D cameras to impartially and immediately settle challenges to the human umpire's call. Though they work side by side for now, an NPR report predicts umpires and referees have a 98.3 percent chance of becoming automated, with ample advocacy for and against among athletes and sports fans.
Other real estate-adjacent fields are not far behind loan officers, with appraisers and sales agents at respectively 90 percent and 86 percent risk of automation. Advances in artificial intelligence in home appraisal are already helping out at Zillow, where their algorithms are supposedly able to assess a multitude of complex price indicators.
At the perpetually cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, workers such as mail sorters are already being replaced by machines such as the $22,000 handling robot Baxter. Mail carriers have long been safe from automation, but that began changing in 2016, when the Swiss Post tested Starship Technologies' robotic delivery vehicles that may soon make their ways to America.
Travel agents are projected to see an 11.7 percent drop in employment by 2024 from 2012, in part due to the impact of artificial intelligence on the travel industry. Agents are made redundant by largely automated travel sites such as Skyscanner and Thomson, which employ artificially intelligent chatbots to help customers save money and create personalized experience.
Jewelers and others who help manufacture, appraise, or repair jewelry have a 95.5 percent chance of having their jobs become automated, thanks to 3D printing and gem-cutting robots. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of people employed in such jobs will decline another 7 percent from 2016 to 2026.
Most utility companies still employ meter readers to travel between homes and businesses determining water, gas, and electricity use, but these positions have been vanishing for years as companies turn to digital meters to collect the information. The job is said to have a 100 percent chance of replacement by automation.
The company Knightscope has already deployed its bulky K5 security robot to patrol parking lots and offices in 10 states. Though they're designed to supplement human guards for now, the profession has an 84 percent chance of automation, as the K5 and other robots become more cost effective than high-maintenance human counterparts.
The job of file clerk has already changed considerably as banks and other businesses depend less and less on paper filing systems, and it's due to shrink another 8 percent by 2024 thanks to affordable software programs such as QuickBooks that accomplish many of the same tasks. The profession is supposedly doomed.
Court reporters, typists, and transcriptionists of all stripes can expect to be passed over for automated tools that can more swiftly and cheaply take down conversations. Medical transcriptionist positions are already being phased out as hospitals, including Fletcher Allen Health Care in Vermont, transition to technologies such as the electronic Patient Record and Information Systems Management.
The world's largest meatpacking company, JBS in Brazil, bought a controlling share of the robotics firm Scott Technology in 2016, intending to develop butchery robots beginning in its sheep and pork processing plants. Beef processing has been more difficult to automate, but efforts will continue given the high cost and safety hazards of human labor in the industry.
Porters and bellhops, who handled guests' luggage, have an 83 percent risk of automation. Hospitals in Japan have been using automated porters to answer client inquiries and transport luggage since at least 2006, and South Korea's LG Electronics began demonstrating commercial robots for hotels and airports this year, which could affect up to 800 million workers worldwide.
Robots already make vehicles, and now they're helping repair them, with Audi and other companies testing diagnostic and technician robots at dealerships. Certain automotive maintenance jobs, such as body repair technician, are at particularly high (91 percent) risk of automation, while mechanics will likely see their positions transform to work alongside robots.
The market for customer service robots is forecast to be worth $88 million by 2022, though about half of the bots deployed will go to the Asia Pacific region. Banks, malls, airports, movie theaters, and exhibitions where employees perform repetitive customer interactions are looking beyond self-service kiosks to artificially intelligent helpers, with U.S. organizations including Target and Lowe's already running tests.
Artificial intelligence is threatening jobs even in the elite field of Wall Street investing, as BlackRock and other big investment companies lay off employees in favor of computerized stock-trading algorithms that by far outperform them. By 2025, financial institutions are expected to have lost 10 percent of their workforce, with 40 percent of those eliminated operating in money management.
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