Every Job I’ve Ever Had Has-Been (or Will-Be) Automated
Every job I’ve ever had will be automated or obsolete.
I don’t think enough people realize how fast technology is changing. I might not either, but when I think about every job I’ve ever had over the course of my life, about 13 of them, it’s kind of making me realize it:
- Textbook Preparer
When I was 14, I worked for my friend’s dad; he had a small business, in his basement, making textbooks for Law Schools… I’d photocopy court transcripts and stack them into dozens of piles, page-by-page. He would then manually cut the pages down from 11.5 x 18 down to 5 x 8 inches, and then do the book-binding himself.
Needless to say, my Photocopying-job is now obsolete. Today, my former-boss could easily piece together his book in Scrivener or Google Docs, and print the books with the paperback book printer at our local library. But, even that would be unnecessary as students today can access nearly any reading material online (without a physical textbook).
2) Bus-Boy / Dish-Washer
I Waited, Bussed Tables, and did Dishes. Obviously those jobs still exist, but so does the technology that will make those jobs obsolete. In Japan, there are already restaurants that take orders, deliver meals, bus tables, and wash dishes automatically.
3) Cook /Baker /Chef
I worked at a local deli Baking bagels and pizza. I used a bagel-cutting machine but my human-hands were still needed to spray the bagel-tops with water, dip them in bins of poppy-seeds, and place them on a tray into the oven. I would then proceed to burn my hands as I rushed them to the baskets on the counter. Today there is a Chef with robot hands that can make any of 2,000 dishes on demand (all without burning human-flesh.)
Pizza is a simple process, an algorithm even: toss dough, spread sauce, sprinkle cheese, bake. A vending machine can now bake a fresh pizza from scratch in 3 minutes. An impressive made-to-order gourmet-hamburger-machine is currently being developed in San Francisco. Bartender and Barista machines already exist.
I used to work with an ancient artifact known as a Cash Register. Nowadays self check-out kiosks are expanding beyond the grocery-store into large restaurant-chains like McDonald’s and Panera Bread. Say goodbye to eye-contact or having to repeat yourself.
Surely there has to be at least one summer job that’s not in danger of being replaced by technology… How about Lifeguarding? — Nope. Drones that are 5-times faster than Michael Phelps are already delivering life-preservers to swimmers. These drones are operated by humans, but they don’t have to be. Autonomous-drones that can track a subject effortlessly have already been developed.
6) College Student
For 4 years I was a College Student, another occupation that seems outdated. When everybody reads and researches online, everybody is a student, making the title “student” almost meaningless. Anyway, in 2008, I graduated with a BA in Filmmaking. I was trained to shoot actual physical 16mm filmstrips, technology that was obsolete by the time I graduated.
7) Production Assistant
After college I got what most graduates did: a shitty job. In my case the job was Production Assistant (PA) for movies and television. Typically the main duty of a PA is Driving, running errands and picking up food. But today cars are already driving themselves. In 25 years it’s likely a fully automated food-truck…no driver necessary… will deliver itself to the crew!
I’ve been a freelance Videographer, lugging a big beefy camera to document local events. Now anyone can easily record audio or video on their phone. If you want higher quality video, most people can just ask a friend to bring their DSLR.
For supplemental income, I’ve dabbled in Animation side gigs. In order to sync a character’s lips to the dialogue, I used to have to change the mouth-shape myself, frame by frame. It was tedious and time-consuming. Now Adobe has just released new software that allows you to automatically sync your character’s movements and lips to your own in real-time. The software achieves this by recognizing your motion and facial-features through your webcam. High-quality animation is now as simple as playing charades on your webcam.
I got a foot in the television post-production door Transcribing video interviews. After being promoted, I learned my job got outsourced to a company that did the transcribing automatically with software. Today, everybody has free transcribing software on their phone (Siri or Google Now) and Youtube automatically transcribes and translates every video uploaded. It’s not perfect yet, but in the meantime, there are large online communities who do excellent video translations — not for any income of course — for free.
11) Assistant-Editor and Video-Editor
I worked my way into an Assistant-Editor position. Software-scripts are quickly performing more and more assistant-editor tasks like masking and tracking (a face to blur for ex.), syncing audio, and removing silences (a common 1st step when working with interview footage).
I eventually moved up to Video-Editor, a creative job telling stories with images and sound. It’s hard to believe, but software already exists that can edit certain types of videos (previously considered creative) like a multi-camera music video or a Hollywood red-carpet montage. Despite that, I feel the creative storytelling aspect of video-editing is in no immediate danger of being fully automated. However, that doesn’t make the job anymore secure. Everybody has access to a camera, free editing-software, and free distribution online. The television industry is going the the way of the music industry: digital, decentralized, and largely unprofitable.
I’ve attempted to supplement my income as a Youtuber (creating videos for Youtube). A lucky few have a large enough audience to sustain themselves with online ad-revenue. But that won’t last, as the entire online Advertising Industry is rapidly becoming obsolete due to a free open source browser extension: AdBlock Plus.
13) School Counselor/Teacher
After developing a RSI injury from all the computer work, I decided to mix things up and became an elementary After-School Counselor teaching technology. Turns out the technology I taught (iPads) can already do a better job teaching than humans. No joke — Tablets teach kids faster than traditional school. In trials done in both Malawi and the UK: Playing a math app on an iPad, 30 minutes a day, for 6 weeks equaled 18 months of formal education.
During the school-day I taught a high school new-media class. Sure, the students benefited from (or at least appreciated) my help and enthusiasm in the classroom. But the truth is, once motivated, anyone can learn any aspect of video production — or any other subject — online for free and at their own pace. Today technology teaches itself.
Being a role model and making sure kids are safe has not been automated. But when all the kids’ parents’ jobs get automated, they won’t have money for child-care. However, without a job, they can actually spend time with their own children for a change, making most child-care jobs unnecessary.
As I write this article now, I’m technically being a Journalist. It doesn’t pay the bills of course, and you probably know this because you too, or someone you know, is 1 of the 150 million people blogging on the internet. But did you know that legitimately experienced writers (unlike myself) are also not getting paid, even by well established for-profit publishers like The Atlantic? In some cases publishers (including LA Times and Forbes) are sidestepping human writers altogether by enlisting robo-journalists, software that writes stories automatically.
Exceptions to the Rule? (Lawyers, Doctors, Programmers, etc.)
What if I had listened to my parent’s not-so-subtle suggestions “Why don’t you be a Lawyer or a Doctor?” Perhaps I’d be getting by at the moment, but technology is enabling more productivity with less human workers in white-collar jobs too… Remember Watson, IBM’s AI that beat humanity’s best in Jeopardy? Well Watson’s going into the workforce now and he’s already better at diagnosing some cancers than doctors.
There’s a fad among parents to get their children to be a Programmer because people think that will lead to a good paying job in the future. But even Software Development has the same fate as the music industry because the product, software, is inherently digital. When a commodity is digital, it can be duplicated at no cost (like an mp3) and become so abundant you can’t sell it. Just like anyone can now create a film with iMovie, one can create an app with as much ease as it takes to record a song in Garage Band. Eventually it will be as difficult for a software-developer to sell their work as it is for Musicians.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math for the Win?
We could all just get STEM Jobs right? No. There are not even enough STEM jobs for current STEM graduates. It’s Data Scientists who are developing this new technology so surely we will need to create more data scientist jobs, right? Well no. Not according to data scientists.
The Good, The Bad, and Free Money
It is a wonderful thing that machines can do our monotonous chores. It’s lovely that technology enables everybody to be a student of any subject and a media creator. The problem is our socio-economic system was not designed for such abundance. So many people are doing creative work (and at a very high caliber) that few can make any money doing it.
Oxford researchers predict nearly half of all jobs will be automated in 20 years. When half the workforce is unemployed and impoverished, what’s gonna happen? I suspect people will bring out the pitchforks in a violent revolution — that is if people were still farmers and farmers still had pitchforks.
When drones farm all the food will people get to eat it? Or starve in poverty? I hope we can evolve along with technology. As tech frees and enables everyone to create and contribute without a job… maybe everyone should get paid enough to live without a job too.
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