Here are the ten fastest-growing jobs and the odds that robots and software eat them:
1) Personal care aides: 74%
2) Registered nurses: 0.9%
3) Retail salespersons: 92%
4) Combined food prep & serving workers: 92%
5) Home health aides: 39%
6) Physician assistant: 9%
7) Secretaries and admin assistants: 96%
8) Customer service representatives: 55%
9) Janitors and cleaners: 66%
10) Construction workers: 71%
These ten occupations account for 3.85 million projected jobs in the next ten years, or 25 percent of the decade’s projected job haul. And six of them are at least two-thirds automatable, based on researchers’ projections of current computing power.
James Bessen takes comfort in historical precedents:
According to 60 Minutes, “Bank tellers have given way to ATMs. Sales clerks are surrendering to e-commerce. And switchboard operators and secretaries to voice recognition technology,” arguing that digital technologies are leading to persistent unemployment. But, in fact, there are more bank tellers, sales clerks and receptionists and secretaries in 2009 than in 1999, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The reason: demand.
For example, it takes fewer bank tellers to operate a bank branch, thanks to the ATMs. This makes it less costly to operate a bank branch, allowing banks to open more of them. With more branches, banks can expand their markets. But more branches mean greater demand for tellers, offsetting the loss in the number of tellers per branch. Bank tellers today perform different tasks than in the past – they do fewer simple jobs like counting cash and more of the customer interaction of “relationship banking.” These tasks require different skills, but ATMs have not eliminated teller jobs.
Miles Brundage joins the conversation:
[T]he tasks that are easy to automate aren’t necessarily the boring and repetitive ones, and the tasks that are hard to automate aren’t necessarily the fun and interesting ones. Consider, for example, the warehouses that power Amazon’s vast supply chains. As shown in a recent BBC documentary and a first-person account in the Guardian, the workers in these warehouses aren’t exactly living the dream—they are under constant pressure by their computerized overlords to meet impossible picking-and-placing targets, are physically exhausted at the end of work each day, and their working conditions may put them at increased risk of mental illness.
From a technological point of view, these warehouses are perfect examples of human-machine symbiosis in action. People have excellent dexterity and perception compared with robots, and computers can schedule workers’ movements around the warehouse efficiently, use their perfect memories to keep track of the locations of items, and set targets to motivate employees. From a subjective point of view, though, many of these workers report feeling like robots themselves.