These Jobs are Most at Stake to be Replaced by Robots

You could argue that all of this has happened before. When the industrial revolution came along, machines began replacing fishing and transportation jobs, among many other fields of labor. And so far we’ve been fine, right? Except there’s a big difference this time around.

In the past, when machines came to replace human laborers, they created just as many if not more new jobs to replace the old ones. There were no more longshoremen nor employees hand stirring concrete and hand weaving thread but cars were pouring into the world and we needed drivers, factory workers, and people constructing roads. The newer jobs were less labor intensive and overall better and higher earning than the ones it replaced. The standard of living improved as we went from agricultural work to industrial work to service and finally information jobs. We have continued to expand and work because of specialization. However, there is a limit to how specialized a person can be.

Robots and AI are learning new skills at a rate higher than the new jobs and industries that they’re creating. There no longer is an equivalent amount of new job openings for the ones that have been taken. And, more than that, companies have every reason to employ robots over humans. Not only do robots pay for themselves in a matter of months, but they’re more efficient, don’t need sick days or vacation time, don’t need to be insured, are always polite and punctual.

As Ed Rensi, the former CEO of McDonald’s put it, “It’s cheaper to buy a $35,000 robotic arm than it is to hire an inefficient employee who’s making $15 an hour bagging french fries.”

As much as we’d like to believe that there are no machines which could replace humans, robots are becoming increasingly adaptive in their work. This year a company plans to introduce a robot that has catalogued the ingredients and hand movements used by five-star chefs. It’s even self cleaning and will scrub and put away its own dishes. You can have it prepare your meal from an app on your phone ahead of time so that dinner is ready by the time you get home.

The Moley cooking robot and kitchen.

Companies are also able to make a lot more money with far fewer employees. Take movie streaming, for example.

In 2004, BlockBuster was making $6 billion with 84,000 employees. Netflix has so far made $9 billion dollars with only 4,500 employees.

Let’s see which jobs are most at risk for becoming automated.

Cashiers — 97% chance of automation

By the end of 2018, half of all McDonald’s stores will have self-serving kiosks. The company found that people often came back more often and spent more money when kiosks were installed than when they weren’t. And McDonald’s isn’t the only company who’s planning to automate it’s cashiers. Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Carl’s Jr. have plans to install more kiosks as well.

Behind the counter, some companies are already creating machines that can cook burgers three times faster than a human, averaging around 400 burgers per hour.

The Bureau and Labor Statistics estimates that 80,000 fast food jobs will be gone by 2024.

Bus and Taxi drivers — 60–80% chance of automation

Over 90% of car crashes are caused by human error, whether that be texting or eating or being drunk, millions of deaths each year can be avoided by removing the human element of driving. Machines are always focused and obey all traffic rules. Because of this, the future looks to be increasingly free of motor accidents and death. By 2030 every large car company plans to have an autonomous car available for purchase for any consumer.

Once more autonomous cars are on the road, traffic lights and stop signs might prove outdated altogether as cars will be able to communicate with one another, allowing the most amount of cars to fit on the road at once and enabling everyone to reach their destination as soon as possible.

Another bonus — better driving means less CO2 emissions each year.

Bank Tellers — 98% chance of automation

Future of the ATM.

While ATM’s can already do a lot, new ones are in development that will replace most bank telling jobs. They will be able to open new accounts, process loans, and overall do anything a human bank teller can do.

Large monitors will display your personal information, advertisements, offers, and video tutorials if you need help figuring out the new system. There will also be a live video feed to show you what’s going on behind you, for security purposes.

Banks are looking to let customers pre-arrange their ATM visit by using a mobile app and then simply dropping by within 24 hours to pick up the cash. Bank of America plans to set up over 1,000 of their new ATMs while Chase has already set up more than 5,000.

Agricultural Labor — 87% chance of automation

Harvesting produce can be intense work. Long days in the sun stretching and bending can lead to skin cancer and back problems for workers. This, coupled with the exposure to dangerous chemicals, might mean that it’s a good thing jobs in this area are up for automation. There might not be much of a choice, either. More intense immigration regulations have led to a shortage of farm laborers this year and farm owners are turning to machines to help fix the problem.

A new farming system called Xaver has droves of small robots that can plant seeds in all kinds of conditions. They use the technology found in autonomous cars to embed their robots with sensors and high precision capabilities.

Strawberry picking robots might be able to replace as many as 30 workers and automated tomato processing cuts labor costs by as much as 90%.

Construction Workers — 88% chance of automation

While construction is seen as an unpredictable job, there are some aspects of it that are repetitive and can be automated. This involves tasks such as welding and soldering or bricklaying. While a human lays 300–500 bricks in one day, a machine would be able to lay anywhere from 800–1,200. And the machine would do it all perfectly, I might add.

Drones are also a big disruptor in this field. Using high resolution cameras, scanners, and gyroscopic stabilizers, drones could inspect dangerous features like pipelines, mines, and cell towers. They could detect gas leaks and deliver building materials to areas workers would find dangerous.

Factory Labor — 97% chance of automation

Future factories will look a lot emptier than they do now. They will mostly consist of machines supervised by a few trained humans. The goal is to have raw materials go in at one end and finished products to come out the other. Robots would take care of the middle part, building everything at a pace too fast for any human to compete with. This could not only lower overall costs but also bring manufacturing back into the US from giant factory centers like China.

Though even China is starting to invest in more and more automation. Wages at its factories has been rising for over a decade and less people are interested in factory work. Last year, China bought 20% more industrial robots than the year before.

What do we do?

Displacing such a large part of the work force, and so quickly, would cause a huge disruption in the economy. We should focus less on if automation will occur and instead what to do when it does happen. There are some benefits to automation — lower prices of goods and less dangerous work for humans. But what are we going to do with the people who have gotten replaced?

One solution could be a universal basic income where all citizens get a set amount of money each month to keep them off the streets. A UBI of $10,000 a year for all US citizens would cost about $3.2 trillion.

Or we might just find that capitalism itself is outdated altogether. If no jobs need to be done and everything can be provided for us, why do we need a capitalist system?

Even the most unique jobs like writing or designing will eventually be able to be automated. This is because machine learning algorithms make it possible for AI to transform their observations into data and analyze it, learning enough from us to be able to replicate the action on its own. Granted, this won’t happen for many years. Jobs requiring creativity and more interpersonal problems are safe for now. This includes psychology, fashion, film directing, etc.

If you’d like to find out whether your job is at stake, you can search for it on this website.