This is a series of 4 articles I am sharing here, for people who are concerned and eager to understand more about job displacement impact potentially caused by artificial intelligence technology. You would read about “safe” versus “endangered” jobs in this series. The jobs listed in each article are demonstrative from my research research and technological knowledge, which may or may not fit into your personal scenario.
I highly encourage readers to take those as references and inspirations, and to start re-imagine and re-strategize your career today with our shared future — powered by AI.
How to determine what jobs are safe/unsafe?
- Repetition vs. strategic:
- Does your job have minimal repetition of tasks?
- Do you regularly come up with insights that are important to your company?
- Do you make key decisions that cross functions for your company?
- Simplicity vs. complexity:
- Do most decisions in your job require complexity or deliberation?
- In your job, do you need to regularly learn and understand a lot of complex information?
- Dexterity vs. repetition:
- Does it require at least a year of training to be qualified for your job?
- Does your job involve very little repetition of the same task(s)?
- Fixed vs. unstructured environment
- Is your job usually performed in different environments each time? (e.g., a taxi driver would always work in the same taxi)
- Is your work environment unstructured?
For all jobs: human-contact / empathy / compassion
- Is communication and persuasion one of the most important parts of your job?
- Do you spend >30% of your work time with people who are not employed by your company (e.g., customers, potential customers, partners) ?
- Is a key part of your job performance measured by how well you interact with people?
- Does your job result in happiness, safety, or health of those your directly service?
- Do you lead or manage people in your job?
Top 10 Most Endangered Jobs from AI
Telemarketer / telesales
Telesales are among the very first professions to be replaced. You’ve probably already received robo-calls, but future calls will be more natural. And having a single-domain conversation where AI takes the lead makes it a lot easier for the AI to appear authentic. Furthermore, AI can use customer profile, past purchases, and emotional recognition to find ways to appeal to them. For example, using a soothing female voice or a persuasive male voice; up-selling the impulsive buyer, and targeting the user with products in the right category and price range. Considering AI is almost no-incremental cost, no-complaint, higher performance, and fully connected to business logic, this job category has no future. If you are in this position, consider changing to more human connection type of jobs, or move into face-to-face inter-personal sales.
Customer interaction will increase with the adoption of AI. However, customer support positions are relatively repetitive (their jobs often follow “scripts”), and therefore will be largely replaced by AI. Customer service jobs will be replaced in phases. The first to be replaced will be chat-bot or email customer service. Then, replacements will move to voice services where there are large volume of calls and relatively structured products/services. They will begin with human-AI working together, with AI providing suggested answers, topics, or scripts. Then human will be the backup when AI cannot handle a call (such as an angry caller). This will result in lower waiting period for the customer, higher problem resolution rate (because AI will be used only when proven to help), and much lower cost. During this process, more data will be accumulated for AI to eventually beat the human performance. If you are working in this category, migrate from text support to voice support, from light support to heavy support, from over the phone/Internet to face-to-face. I would also encourage you to learn skills of empathy, communication, and persuasion.
Amazon warehouses have had robots developed by Kiva systems to move racks of shelves and bring them to stationary human workers, who then pick up the merchandiser and put them into bins. But computer vision and robotic manipulation technologies have improved, so that the stationary human jobs will soon be augmented and later replaceable. Also, movement of cartons, loading them on trucks, and other warehouse jobs will all be doable by AI soon. Compared to factories, warehouses will be easier to automate, because of relatively lower level of precision needed.
Clerks and operational staff
Citi recently warned that its operational staff will be cut from 20,000 to 10,000. These are the “faceless” middle-persons who manage data and information. Job requirements may deal with filing, processing, procurement, inventory management, filling out forms, checking for errors, estimating sales, report findings to management. But as business processes become digital, business intelligence can automate the process. AI can even make decisions. This isn’t just in the banking industry, but in every large company that deals with large amounts of data. In the era of AI, you do not want to be a faceless processor of data.
Telephone operators are the least personal of all telephone-related work. Speech recognition are getting more accurate (Microsoft’s speech recognition has surpassed human recognition), and in-context dialog-oriented speech synthesis is getting more natural (Google’s demonstrations are indistinguishable from humans). Also, these positions are being challenged with more people relying on messaging rather than telephone. This is a job category that will be eliminated completely over time.
Tellers and cashiers are being replaced already by ATM and self-checkouts. Increased competition will force retailers, banks, and fast-food companies to eliminate many manual processes. Amazon Go points to a future where stores are completely autonomous, but it won’t have widespread adoption very quickly. It is expensive. Mobile payments are not yet pervasive in retail, along with the potential privacy issues involving the use of camera and face recognition. But if you’re a cashier, don’t feel relieved yet — RFID and computer-vision based self-checkout are coming, as are smart vending machines and mini convenience stores. It is a good time to transition into sales assistance, ideally one where your affinity and persuasion can be tracked and rewarded.
Fast food workers
Food preparation is both repetitive and fixed-location. So, the displacement is inevitable. Existing franchises have already begun to automate order-taking, and are likely to go into face and speech recognition soon. The natural next steps are food preparation and cooking. Also, there will emerge whole new chain of fully automatically cooked and served food, with a lower price (a Chinese robo-store offers lunch for about half the price of MacDonald’s). These “robo-restaurants” will also take business away from traditional fast food business, which leads to a reduction in overall human fast-food workers.
Don’t think of the dish washer as a man-shaped robot, but think of it as a super-sized dishwasher that can take dishes (and food, bones, napkins, utensils) right off the restaurant table, and out comes shiny clean dishes and silverware. Dishcraft, a start-up in California, is already selling these. They are still expensive, but compared to the human labor saved, larger restaurants or hotels can afford them. And over time volume will drive down cost. If you have a repetitive job like dish washing, it is time to get some training and get a job that is less repetitive.
Assembly line inspector
Assembly line jobs will be phased out, because of the fixed, static environment, and the repetitive nature of the jobs. Phasing out may take 20 years — not so fast because robotic manipulation is not easy for AI. But there are some assembly line jobs that are easy — inspection for blemishes or flaws (cosmetic like iPhone casing, or functional like circuit board). They leverage the rapid improvement in computer vision, and require little or no manipulation. These jobs are taxing and tiring for the human inspectors, particularly on their eyes. So, it is time to prepare to move to a job that is less damaging to your health, requires dexterity and operates in unstructured and new environments.
Couriers and delivery people are being replaced by delivery robots, mini-vehicles, full trucks, and drones. This will first begin with indoors delivery in structured environments (hotel rooms, apartments, condominiums), and then go into non-public roads, and finally into full delivery. When I was quarantined during the intense period of covid-19 in China, all food and deliveries were brought to my apartment by a R2D2-like delivery robot. That robot could summon the elevator from ground floor, signaled to arrive at the exact floor, and notified my phone when it reached my door, then waited for me patiently. While e-commerce continues its growth with greater number of delivery needs (and jobs) for the short term, this is not definitely not an area to be in. The human differentiation and the human interaction is just too minimal.