Dancing with Disruption – 20 Jobs that Could Be Transformed by AI
Published on October 8, 2019
Rohit Talwar – Futurist Speaker
By Rohit Talwar, Steve Wells, Maria Romero, and Alexandra Whittington
Will intelligent machines take, make, or reboot your job – how might AI transform occupations and professions across society?
The robots are coming – “Lock up your knowledge and protect your job at all costs!” The apocalyptic warnings are starting to flow of how artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics combined with other disruptive technologies could eliminate the need for humans in the workplace. Equally skeptical voices are rubbishing the idea that anything drastic will happen, citing previous industrial revolutions as proof that new jobs will emerge to fill any gaps created by the automation of existing ones. In practice, no one really knows how quickly AI might eliminate jobs, or what the employment needs will be of the future businesses and industries that have not yet been born.
What we do know is that AI is one of the key exponentially improving technologies shaping both the workplace of the future and the roles that will be available for humans and machines. Some forecasts suggest that by 2030, 50% or more of all jobs could be replaced by robotic or AI workers. Elon Musk—the real world “Tony Stark” and technology entrepreneur behind Tesla, Hyperloop, and many other disruptive new ventures—believes that robots will outperform humans in every field of activity far faster than we can imagine. Others such as the OECD predict that for every new job created, three or more will disappear through automation.
However, the future is not a statistic. Whilst the cataclysmic “replaced by robots” warnings may well be overstated in the short term, the pace of change will inevitably quicken—a number of job roles are already being transformed by AI technologies in the workplace. Indeed, some jobs could be eliminated entirely while other new work roles will be created. Whether eliminated or transformed, one reasonable take-away remains: AI is recalibrating the division of labor between humans and technology.
To help put the potential changes in an everyday context, here are 20 currently human job roles that could be transformed or eliminated completely by the use AI and robotics over the period from 2020 to 2030:
1. Doctors/Surgeons – Fully autonomous and remote controlled robotic surgeons will diagnose, treat and operate on patients in areas where there are no human medics available. Humans might monitor or control these robo-docs via video from central hub hospital facilities in bigger towns and cities. New service propositions might emerge such as autonomous vehicle-based mobile doctors’ surgeries which visit the patient to enable remote diagnosis and conversation while the doctor remains in their office.
2. Policing – Robots could perform tasks like crowd control, and police drones could track and intercept criminals escaping from crime scenes. Autonomous police cars could undertake ultra-high-speed chases and then use either robots or drones to detain the occupants without risking human officers’ lives.
3. Teachers – A combination of technology advances, changing societal expectations, evolving business needs, and new educational insights mean we can anticipate deep transformations of the overall educational system and curriculum. As a result, teachers could find their roles being redefined on a regular basis. So, while AI might be in charge of imparting most of the technical skills and information required by learners, educators would focus on developing human-to-human social skills. Life-long learning journeys would also require more insightful and sensitive mentoring capabilities. The teacher could become the nurturer, coach, facilitator, community builder, and therapist.
4. Journalists – AI tools are already being used to gather, sort, analyze, interpret, and write the resulting articles and reports for online news sites and investment banks. This will extend to drone-based robo-journos sent in to capture and report on the most dangerous situations around the world and to cover a far wider range of situations at far lower cost than dispatching humans to every news scene.
5. Investment Analysts, Fund Managers, and Traders – Investment bots will have the capacity to analyze ever larger volumes of current and historic trading data, news, company updates, and market sector information in a fraction of a second to make investment decisions.
6. Accountants – AI would enable real-time analysis of every transaction as it happens, thus reducing the potential for error and fraud and enabling the maintenance a continuously updated set of transaction accounts without human intervention. The ability to track and analyze every commercial and social interaction would create new opportunities for suitably skilled and reputable accountants who can leverage their trustworthiness and experience to become high-level business and financial advisors. The emphasis would be more on improving business results rather than collating and auditing them. In this role, the keys to a successful career would include understanding the evolving dynamics of a mixed business environment comprising machines and humans, the ability to spot and interpret complex emerging patterns, communication skills, and creativity.
7. Lawyers – A range of search, analysis, and contract drafting tasks are already being automated. The use of AI across sectors might challenge existing regulations and lead to a whole raft of new legal precedent work requiring expert input. However, the elimination of the potential for human error would decrease the number of legal disputes—as might be expected from the advent of self-driving cars reducing the number of human drivers. Robolawyers are already overturning parking tickets in the UK and US. Additionally, smart policing devices and an expanding blanket of sensors will feed into AI judges where there would be little to no room for debate. Moral and ethical issues related to technology advances may become the next legal growth arena.
8. Life Coaches and Therapists – Automation forecasts today are already causing anxiety and stress among perfectly healthy professionals. When mass layoffs start, society could see mental health issues rise to crisis level. Addressing these issues in a timely manner, promoting coping mechanisms, and highlighting the importance of mental well-being for society would be fundamental priorities for life coaches and therapists. A growing number might choose to become coaches and therapists with the disappearance of their former roles as lawyers, accountants, engineers, doctors, retailers, and taxi drivers.
9. Drivers and Mechanics – From taxis to buses, trucks and rescue services, humans seem likely to be eased out gradually from these roles as regulations allow autonomous/driverless vehicles onto the roads. These new “autonomous people moving units” can be designed around their primary purpose: moving people around on business, on leisure, and on holiday. They hold out the promise of being inherently safer, more fuel efficient, and more productive—freeing up drivers’ time. They could also become self-diagnosing and connect with other vehicles to form self-insurance pools. The use of shape shifting 4D-printing techniques could also result in self-repairing vehicles.
Retail, Travel, and Construction
10. Sales Representatives – AI could become the personal shopper of the future, learning our desires and requirements and—over time—making purchases with less and less need to check in with us. Retail algorithms may offer recommendations, drawing on vast databases of consumer preferences and our own shopping history and social media profiles. Shopping could become a task that no longer requires humans to allocate their precious time to do it. For those that still want a say in the process, it would be intertwined with other activities and may only take seconds to complete. For example, films and TV shows would offer the ability to click on an item being worn by an actor to order it. Self-driving devices and drones would then be able to deliver the purchase anytime and anywhere.
11. Concierges – As the traditional concierge figure is increasingly replaced by AI and robots, experiences where every luxurious desire is catered for would become more affordable. AI would take care of everything from suggesting plans and making reservations, to adding room amenities and scheduling rides. New forms of high-end AI could charge a steep premium, and serve as a vehicle for the conspicuous consumption crowd to flaunt their wealth.
12. Travel Agents – From holidays to business travel, AI could increasingly take on the end-to-end booking process. The applications would collate individual, family, and group/event travel preferences, search for options, design highly personalized itineraries, make reservations, and complete the payment on our behalf. Travel agents may need to become application specialists, signposting the best apps for their clients. Other immersive technologies including augmented and virtual reality could provide opportunities for agents to offer a taster experience, allowing travelers to feel the bed linen, smell the hotel room toiletry fragrances, and taste the food from a hotel on the other side of the world as part of their client service.
13. Construction Workers – Robotic excavators could undertake trenching work for new construction projects while increasingly sophisticated 3D printing coupled with drones and robotic workers could replace many construction jobs. These might include demolition, bricklaying, plastering, plumbing, cabling, and carpentry. Provision could be made in the 3D-printed construction process for the different properties and materials required—including external weather proofing, preparing internal surfaces for bespoke decoration and finishing which may be completed by robots, and installation of utilities. These construction technologies would be underpinned by AI providing the scope for autonomous construction with minimum human supervision. New materials used in the construction could include self-healing properties and further reduce the reliance on human labor for repair and maintenance through- out the building’s life.
Changing Organizational Roles
14. Entrepreneurs and Leaders – Instead of looking for human partners and employees, entrepreneurs might increasingly scout for the combination of AI systems that would match their personality profile and range of business needs better. One-person businesses could be more common as artificial general intelligence materializes—enabling the growth of fully automated decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs) which have literally no employees.
15. Managers – A vast swathe of management roles could disappear as the workforce they supervise, and most of their own tasks, are automated. Reports, meetings, performance appraisals, and team briefings become a thing of history when you have no staff and no work to do. For those that still have roles, the priority will shift from managing the present to creating the future, designing how work gets done with an in-depth appreciation of the limitations and advantages of AI and human workers alike. However, the pursuit of maximum efficiency would not be enough in a constantly changing world: The requirement to solve new challenges and realize new potential opportunities will require uniquely human capabilities for some time to come, so truly unleashing human potential would become the new source of competitive advantage.
16. Research and Development – From pharmaceuticals to new materials and electronic devices, AI software is increasingly being used to conduct more and more of the R&D value chain. The use of AI helps compress the iterative innovation process of trial-and-error experimentation. This involves doing more trials faster and comparing real-time data with historic and predictive consumer profiles to better target the solutions. Tailoring products and services using AI might lead organically to the creation of new and better offerings.
17. HR Managers – Employee diversity might take on a new dimension when many business environments include a mix of AI, physical robots, holograms, “standard issue” humans, and those with artificial augmentations of their brains and bodies. Different types of AI would have different jobs to fulfill alongside and—increasingly—in supervision of humans. Recognizing and nurturing the value of humanity in the workplace, helping people retain their worth and dignity, and resolving human-machine disputes could become priority tasks for HR managers to address.
18. Marketing Researchers and Strategists – The data shared by consumers would be automatically analyzed by AI in real time. This feedback loop would create dynamic marketing campaigns able to optimize themselves based on each response. Offers would be tailored to the individual according to both their personal preferences and the time of day when they are most likely to make a purchase.
19. Customer Service Representatives – Chatbots are already making sales calls, helping customers make choices, and solving callers’ problems across a wide range of industries. No mood swings, standardized quality, 24/7 availability, and extensive and constant up-to-date knowledge are just a few of the benefits that AI promises to bring to customer service. However, there might still be delicate and complex issues that would be handled better with a human touch.
20. Personal Assistants – Future generations of Siri, Cortana, and Alexa should be able to undertake personal shopping, screen incoming calls, and determine which news to show us. They could also save our time by sorting and responding to email backlogs and look after our well-being—for example sharing our health and allergy information with a restaurant prior to our visit.
In addition to this top twenty, there are numerous other ways we might anticipate jobs could evolve in the future. Opportunities might arise in areas such as personal trainers, care of the elderly, and the performing arts. We might also see a requirement to help older workers learn about the new and disruptive technologies, and possibly more demand for teachers/classroom facilitators if greater emphasis is placed on developing life skills in smaller-sized, face-to-face classes. The industries of the future will also generate a significant volume of mainly graduate or master’s degree-level opportunities in everything from alternative energy and synthetic materials, to human augmentation and driverless vehicles. As the world becomes increasingly tech-enabled, people might conversely crave live and unaugmented experiences—which could drive a growth in opportunities in bars, restaurants, entertainment experiences, and live performers of all kinds.
Ultimately, today’s business leaders acknowledge that the robots are coming; it is just that we don’t know where they may have their biggest impacts. Productivity is expected to rise, but what will it mean for actual employee performance, satisfaction, and engagement? How will customer service be different in the AI-powered workforce of the future? What is the role of education and job training in a world with constant fluctuations in business models? To stay ahead of the game, mental exercises like constructing scenarios can provide insights that challenge the expected future and open doors to exciting new images of progress. Visions of the future are empowering tools at a time when drastic changes are afoot, and uncertainty is high. They can help us prepare organizations and individuals for a range of possibilities, and rehearsing the future also helps reduce the shock factor when the more radical developments do play out.
So, will robots take, make, or reboot the future of work? Stay tuned to find out.
- What are the key factors that should be considered when choosing a future professional career?
- For those seeking to make it to the top, what might be the right balance between job-specific technical competencies and more broad-based people skills?
- How might we react if AI was able to predict or enforce our ideal career paths, forcing us to fulfill our destiny?