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45 Jobs That'll Soon Be Lost to Automation

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Chili's Restaurant
Chili's Restaurant by Mike Mozart (CC BY)

Jobs Going to the Robots

Workers have long feared losing jobs to newcomers, but the threat has changed in the digital age, with technology posing a new form of competition. With 2.3 million robots already present in the global workforce, bots are now projected to supplant 20 million manufacturing jobs by 2030, including 1.5 million in the United States. The pandemic accelerated this shift, as industries turn to technology to alleviate financial losses. The jobs that follow are poised to become increasingly automated, especially as huge chains like Chili's and Chipotle turn to robots and artificial intelligence software amid an unprecedented labor crunch. 


Related: Jobs That Have Disappeared From American Life

Bear Robotics
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Servers and Wait Staff

While fast-food jobs are seeing automation at a particularly brisk clip, that doesn't mean workers in sit-down restaurants will be spared. One restaurant consulting firm estimates that 38% of waiter and waitress jobs could be replaced with the use of bots — amounting to about 2.1 million positions. And one national chain is among those already embracing the technology. Chili's is expanding its use of robots after a successful 18-month trial of a "Rita," a bot that is tasked with jobs including seating customers and helping bring food to tables. Chili's does say Rita is not meant to replace human workers, just give them a helping hand — which she does accurately about 99% of the time, the chain says. 


Related: 12 Best Chain Restaurants for Family-Friendly Dining

A Flippy robot in use at White Castle
Miso Robotics

Fast-Food Jobs

Fast-food companies use an assembly-line approach to streamline cooking, so many positions can be filled by specialized automatons. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 80,000 jobs in the industry will be gone by 2024. Last July, White Castle became the first chain to employ a burger-grilling robot, dubbed Flippy. Chipotle is also testing its own bot. Taking a page from White Castle's book, this one is Chippy, and it's being engineered to cook and season Chipotle's signature lime-dusted tortilla chips. Artificial intelligence is also being put to work at Panera to monitor its coffee stations, and McDonald's has announced a partnership with IBM that will help it speed up the use of artificial intelligence in drive-thru order-taking, which it has already been testing in Chicago.


Related: 20 Fast Food Restaurants Then and Now

Pharmacist
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Pharmacists

Becoming a pharmacist isn't easy, as it requires a masters degree and an understanding of chemistry. But now Walgreens is farming out at least part of the job to robots. According to the chain, one robot can fill 300 prescriptions in an hour, about the same number that a typical Walgreens pharmacy can do in an entire day. The company plans to open micro-fulfillment centers to fill prescriptions, and by 2025, half of Walgreens prescriptions will be filled not by humans, but bots. Walgreens won't be the only bot-backed pharmacy, either — CVS already uses robots to fill prescriptions in some of its high-volume stores. Walgreens says the bots free up real pharmacists to build relationships with customers.


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Sam’s Club Automated Inventory Analytics Robots
Sam's Club

Stock Clerks

Grocery stores are replacing stock clerks with inventory-assessing robots, and you might have already run across one in your local store. The bots move up and down aisles on their own, using cameras and lights to scan products. If anything needs to be restocked, (human) employees are alerted. Sam's Club is the latest store to deploy the robot clerks chain-wide, saying they can record data about the items on the shelves faster and more accurately than human workers, who are in short supply thanks to a labor shortage. Sam's join other stores including Hy-Vee, Giant Eagle, and Save Mart in embracing the inventory tech.

Cashier
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Cashiers

As with many jobs requiring only a high school education, cashier positions don't require a high degree of human analysis and can easily be occupied by machines such as self-checkout kiosks. These have already become common in pharmacies and grocery stores, with fast-food purveyors including McDonald's adopting them as well.

Seattle
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Other Retail Positions

Amazon is pioneering retail at its Seattle-based store Amazon Go, which eliminates checkout altogether and automates purchases through the customer's smartphone. This year, the company launched a business line selling the same technology to other retailers. With other convenience stores expected to follow suit in coming years, this higher-tech approach will likely lead to more lost retail jobs, as it irons out kinks and lessens the need for humans to provide help at checkout.

Dishwashers
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Dishwashers

According to Eric Schmidt, chairman and former CEO of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), dishwashing robots are high on everyone's list for useful applications of artificial intelligence. As of 2019, the startup Dishcraft had raised $25 million in venture capital for its mission to perfect its robotic dishwashing system, which is already in use at certain high-volume cafeterias.

Chefs
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Chefs

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 as well as pockets of the West. In Paris, the French company Pazzi has opened a restaurant staffed by its own pizza-making robot, while Creator in San Francisco boasts an automated assembly line for gourmet burgers made to order. Meanwhile, 3D-printing tech that creates gourmet pasta and replica steaks is seeing varying degrees of success and implementation.


Related: Personal Chef and Other Well-Paying Jobs That Make Social Distancing Easy

Toll-Booth Operator
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Toll-Booth Operators

Toll-booth operator is another low-skill position already becoming automated. As many as 16 states now use E-ZPass, an electronic tolling system that eliminates the need for human workers to staff paid-access roads. Nearly half of the nation’s toll roads are now cashless. At least seven more of the 34 states with toll roads have some other form of electronic tolling in place. For 185 toll operators in Northern California, health measures relating to coronavirus presented the final nail in the coffin for the automation of their positions.


Related: 16 Ways Driving Has Changed in the Past 50 Years

Driver
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Drivers

Though everyone's heard the buzz about self-driving cars, fully autonomous vehicles haven’t yet lived up to their most optimistic projections, and aren’t expected to be common until the late 2020s at the earliest. When they do, self-driving cars may make obsolete almost 5 million human jobs dependent on driving, including truckers, taxi drivers, and tractor operators.


Related: 14 Car Innovations We Could See in the Next Decade (And One We Won't)

Courier
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Courier and Delivery Services

Even couriers who don't rely on a car to get around are in danger of robot replacement as companies such as Amazon experiment with delivery via drone or autonomous ground vehicles, like those being prototyped by the company Unsupervised AI.

Radiologist
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Radiologists

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.

Journalists
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Journalists

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. Yahoo Sports uses similar technology for its fantasy football leagues, while Bloomberg news’s Cyborg program converts financial reports into digestible articles. To compensate for lost ad revenue, MSN laid off dozens of editors in favor of content-processing AIs. When it comes to reporting and writing, it remains to be seen whether machines can generate more complex news analysis on their own, or if they’ll be limited to merely assisting human reporters by detecting trends or generating story templates, as they have for outlets such as Forbes and the Post.

Translator
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Telemarketer
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Telemarketers

According to an Oxford study on "The Future of Employment," the highly routine occupation of telemarketing has a 99% probability of automation. The shift has already started, as anyone who's received unwanted robocalls from automated solicitors can attest. 

Telephone Operators
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Telephone Operators

As with telemarketing, many companies have already switched from human operators to more cost-effective automated ones. Switchboard attendants may even go down as one of the first occupations to be supplanted by robotics; companies began introducing automated attendants in the early 1980s.

Middle Management Positions
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Middle Management Positions

Today, machines perform not just physical labor but cognitive tasks as well, with more and more companies employing software systems to input data, review performance, 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. 


Farmer
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Farmworkers

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. 

Agriculture Graders and Sorters
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Agricultural Graders and Sorters

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. 

Accountants and Tax Preparers
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Accountants and Tax Preparers

America's 2 million tax preparers and other accountants may soon see their jobs filled primarily by machines. TurboTax and H&R Block already have tax bots, though they're not yet capable of filing with the IRS. As with journalists, however, it’s likely that in many cases new technologies will simply aid CPAs by performing more mundane, number-crunching tasks, enabling them to focus on bigger-picture, organizational problems that can still benefit from human creativity. 

Assembly and Manufacturing Workers
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Assembly and Manufacturing Workers

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." Economists at MIT and Boston University estimate another 2 million workers in the industry could be replaced by robots by 2025.

Umpires and Referees
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Umpires and Referees

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% chance of becoming automated, with ample advocacy for and against this shift among athletes and sports fans.

Loan Officers
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Loan Officers

Loan officers, whose job it is to evaluate and authorize or deny commercial, real estate, or credit loans, are at a 98% risk of automation. That’s bad news for the 308,700 Americans employed in such positions as of 2018.

Real Estate Appraisers
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Real Estate Appraisers

Other real estate-adjacent fields are not far behind loan officers, with appraisers and sales agents at 90% and 86% risk of automation, respectively. 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.

Postal Service
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Postal Service Workers

At the perpetually cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, various robots have been employed in sorting centers over the past 30 years, replacing human forklift drivers and tuggers to transport mail throughout the facilities. Mail carriers have long been safe from automation, but that began changing in 2016, when the Swiss Post tested robotic delivery vehicles from Starship Technologies that may soon make their ways to America. For now, however, the USPS’ plans only go so far as installing sorting robots in delivery vehicles to pass them between storage bins or to the drivers — still human, for now. 

Travel Agent
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Travel Agents

Travel agents are projected to see an 11.7% drop in employment by 2024 from 2012, in part due to the impact of artificial intelligence on the travel industry. (The travel slump accompanying the coronavirus lockdown may have accelerated things.) 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 experiences.

Related: Travel Agencies and 20 Other Businesses That Are Disappearing

Jewelers
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Jewelers

Jewelers and others who help manufacture, appraise, or repair jewelry have a 96% 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% from 2018 to 2028.

Utility Meter Readers
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Utility Meter Readers

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 projected to have a 100% chance of replacement by automation.

Security Guard
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Security Guards

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% chance of automation, as the K5 and similar robots are becoming more cost effective and — with the complication of coronavirus — pose less health risk than their high-maintenance human counterparts. 

Secretary talking on telephone at hospital reception stock photo
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Receptionists and Secretaries

Callers to companies should expect to be increasingly greeted and connected by robots in the coming years, as receptionist positions have a 96% likelihood of becoming automated. Already there are numerous virtual softwares on the market such as Auto Attendant and Greetly Digital Receptionist that can manage company-wide calls and coordinate schedules independently.

Paralegals
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Paralegals

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 deemed certain to be replaced

Bank Tellers
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Bank Tellers

Bank tellers have a 98% chance of being replaced by robots — on top of what ATMs and mobile banking apps have done already. International banks such as Emirates NBD have also begun using personable robots at select locations to greet customers and help staff present services.



File Clerks and Bookkeepers
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File Clerks and Bookkeepers

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% by 2024 thanks to affordable software programs such as QuickBooks that accomplish many of the same tasks. The profession is supposedly doomed. 

Typists and Transcriptionists
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Typists and Transcriptionists

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.

Meatpackers
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Meatpackers

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.

Bellhop
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Porters and Bellhops

Porters and bellhops, who handle lodging guests and train travelers’ luggage, have an 83% 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 in 2018, which could affect up to 800 million workers worldwide.

Auto Mechanics
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Don't Be Scared to Take a Lesser Job
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Customer Service Representatives

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. businesses such as Target and Lowe's already running tests. This process only accelerated in response to the pandemic, with companies and government services replacing their human-operated call centers with chatbots and AI platforms courtesy of IBM and LivePerson. 

Stock Traders
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Stock Traders

Artificial intelligence is threatening jobs even in the elite field of Wall Street investing, as BlackRock and other major 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% of their human workforce, with 40% of those eliminated operating in money management.

Janitors
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Cleaning Services

As anyone with a Roomba knows, robots can ably perform many run-of-the-mill cleaning tasks on their own, so in-person facilities such as hospitals, airports, and grocery stores have been employing them more and more to free up employees during the pandemic. For example, the San Diego company Brain Corp. saw a 13% increase in retailers using their automated floor cleaning technology between February and April of last year.

Hotel Workers
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Hotel Workers

Some hotels were already deploying mechanized butlers and room service attendants to deliver meals and hygiene essentials, even before the pandemic incentivized our cutting back on direct human contact. Now even more are investing in high-tech cleaning robots such as the Xenex LightStrike, which zaps germs using UV rays to sanitize rooms and luggage and ensure guests’ peace of mind. As of now, the robots still work in conjunction with human cleaners. 


Recycling Sorters
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Recycling Sorters

Among the first to shut down services in response to the pandemic were municipal recycling facilities, where human workers sorted through plastic, paper, and glass in now-dangerously close quarters. Many have turned to AI-assisted robots to fill the gaps, with inquiries to the manufacturer AMP Robotics increasing fivefold between March and June, and nearly 100 facilities expected to employ their technology by the end of 2020, compared with just 35 before. It seems unlikely the centers will revert to more human workforces from a productivity standpoint, as the machines can sort through 160 items a minute to the average person’s 13. 

Construction Companies
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Construction Workers

A 2018 study by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute estimated robots would replace 2.7 million jobs in construction within the next 30 years. The automation potential for different occupations within construction was just 38% for unpredictable physical work, such as roofing and sheet metal application, compared with 70% for more predictable physical work. This includes the operation of heavy machinery, for which some autonomous technology already exists, and bricklaying, which has an 82% chance of automation thanks to advances including the SAM (Semi-Automated Mason) 100 robotic arm.

Use an Independent Life Insurance Agent
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Defensive Stocks
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Credit Analysts

Human credit analysts, who review the financial histories of firms and individuals to make recommendations for lending money or extending credit, are almost guaranteed to lose their jobs to automated technologies in the near future. Though finance remains a popular industry for job seekers, its highly technical nature means it will also be subject to high degrees of automation. For example, JPMorgan is already using AI to review commercial loan agreements in a fraction of the time it used to take human lawyers and analysts.