Many of the world’s leading technologists believe that automation is inevitable, and that increased automation will open the doors for new types of job roles. According to their rhetoric, automation is just another technological wave that brings efficiency and growth, much like the internet. While I agree with the outcome of their thesis, I don’t believe that automation is just another revision to our economic system. On the contrary, automation has the potential to completely overhaul not only our global economy, but also our socio-cultural and political foundations.
From a top-down perspective, there are only a limited number of job functions that cannot be automated, or completed by some form of AI. All other functions, such as ones that follow a repeatable process, or have a structured resolution methodology, are prone to being automated. This means that in additional to physical labor, most aspects of healthcare, legal services, and corporate white-collar professions can be taken over by AI.
Automation of these roles won’t happen overnight. Prior to automation, I believe there are four key checkpoints that need to be crossed:
1). Technology exists to automate these jobs (well, duh)
2). The economics make sense. It’s at a cost point (including installation and support) that is lower than paying human beings
3). Customers of these services are comfortable with robots performing these services. This checkpoint is more important in fields like medicine in comparison to corporate back-office roles
4). There are no government regulations that obstruct the implementation of AI in these services
Once these four barriers are crossed, it is largely a matter of time prior to mass adoption of automated services, and resulting job loss. Humans can try to push back on technology, but free market economics will result in companies having increasingly automated functions on a cost reduction and price competition basis.
So what jobs are protected? I’ve highlighted six key areas, by their functions, that I think are largely immune to complete automation. However, augmentation of basic tasks in these functions is still inevitable.
- Creatives and Entertainers
Examples include: artists, chefs, musicians, film makers, actors
- Educators- Although Mark Zuckerberg firmly believes in technology enabling customized educational experiences, I align with Natalia Kucirkova and Elizabeth Fitzgerald’s commentary in The Conversation. Their thesis states that education can be assisted significantly by technology, but will always require a human touch.
Examples include: teachers (of all kinds)
- Sapientists- I think existing functions that are fundamentally founded on human study, therapy, or human-to-human interactions will by largely protected. We can call this umbrella of roles “Sapientists” for now.
Examples include: psychiatrists, social services, human-interaction reps (sales people, customer support. Applicable across multiple industries)
- Decision makers
Examples include: politicians and policy makers, business executives
- Research and development
Examples include: researchers, scientists, architects, and engineers
- Infrastructure support
Examples include: supervisors for automated shipping and logistics fleets, technology maintenance and support
If these six segments are all that will remain out of the existing series of job functions, then a series of questions arise. The following are a few of the most critical ones:
- How many existing jobs are at risk of being completely automated?
- What is the timeline for these roles to be automated? It’s possible that some roles may take decades to be phased out.
- How many new roles can be created with automation?
- Can the individuals whose roles have been phased out undergo career training and transition roles?
- What will happen to individuals that can’t?
- What sort impact will this shift have to the economy? Societal behaviors? Political systems
- What roles will other forms of technology, such as AR and VR, play in this?
In my upcoming series of articles, I’ll attempt to address these questions, and present my take on the most feasible solution- universal basic income. While UBI has the potential to address most of the issues highlighted, there are major roadblocks that need to discussed.
As far as the ancient Chinese quote goes, we are definitely living in interesting times. Not only is the world changing at a pace faster than ever seen before, but our public discourse on upcoming issues has a unique capacity to impact human history. I hope we’re all up to the challenge.
About the Author: Manu Sharma is an associate at Naya Ventures, an early-stage venture fund based in Dallas, Texas. When not helping build innovative companies, he can be found playing chess, mountain climbing, or running with his dog.