Rise of the robots: the jobs set to be terminated by technology

Is your job next?
Is your job next?

Salespeople, spreadsheet jockeys and journalists will be the first jobs to hit the scrapheap due to advances in technology, according to a leading technology expert.

Forty-seven per cent of jobs in the USA could be automated within the next twenty years, an Oxford University study found.

And Shelly Palmer, named as one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Voices of Technology, predicts that white-collar jobs will be the first to welcome our new robot overlords.

Top of the android hit-list is "middle-management" - no-one’s quite sure what this job title entails, but if it involves putting numbers into an Excel then, as you can imagine, a computer could make a pretty good stab at it.

Accountancy is also in the firing line - though while manipulating numbers is a breeze for silicon semi-humans, quite how far the ethics of creatively massaging figures go is unclear. Certainly Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics never mentioned ‘cooking the books’.

Salespeople - of adverts, supplies etc - are also in the firing line, possibly involving laser beams.

If you basically refer to a database which contains specifications, price and stock levels then, again, you’re not doing anything that a smart spreadsheet couldn’t. Though special dispensation may be made for negotiators and those with the gift of the gab - as Palmer puts it, “selling dreams and magic”.

The most unlikely job type to be replaced by unthinking, uncaring and emotion-free workers is surely that of writers - journalists, authors and ever announcers.

Perhaps not (yet) skilled at producing great works of literature, machines can however be taught to read data as well as utilise text-to-speech systems, pattern-match images or video, and distil research materials into readable reports. Indeed, some media outlets already use automated systems to generate those minute-by-minute sports reports so popular on the web.

Perhaps most scary, but also most useful, is the prospect of medical matters being taken over by machines. With the world’s population increasing seemingly exponentially, as Palmer says: “If everyone who ever wanted to be a doctor became one, we still would not have enough doctors.

So your local MD is unlikely to lose their job, but computers can accurately diagnose illnesses based on data analysis, and offer ultra-precise surgical skills for everything from knee surgery to vision correction.

And it’s not just the jobs mentioned that are under threat. A US government report stated: “There is an 83 per cent chance that workers who earn $20 an hour or less could have their jobs replaced by robots in the next five years. Those in the $40 an hour pay range face a 31% chance of having their jobs taken over by the machines.”

However, Palmer offers some comfort: “First, technological progress is neither good nor bad; it just is. There’s no point in worrying about it, and there is certainly no point trying to add some narrative about the “good ol’ days.” It won’t help anyone. The good news is that we know what’s coming. All we have to do is adapt.”