The increasing automation of work

Human and robots

It wasn’t that long ago – within my lifetime – that most work at factories and on assembly lines was done by humans. I’ve seen video from the 80s of plastics manufacturers and car factories; hundreds of people working with their hands. Compare with a modern cutting edge factory, where large robots swing arms through the air, working all at once as items pass through conveyors belts. Machines & robots turned out to be excellent workers, especially at repetitive, high-throughput tasks.

With today’s accelerating technology, especially given the huge investments in AI due to the internet and smartphone revolution, we’re on the cusp of many more jobs being replaced by robots. The most high profile of these is driving.

According to NPR’s “Planet Money”- The Most Common Job in Every State, truck driving is the most common job in more than half of the United States. This includes freight, delivery, couriers, forklift, and other drivers carrying goods. This covers millions of jobs.

Driving a truck is much more complex than tightening a screw, but as computers advance so too will the robots on the assembly line. A self driving truck is not a regular truck with a robot at the steering wheel, but is more like a computerized truck packed with sensors, GPS, and a powerful computer which can safely manoeuver traffic and road conditions.

Mercedes’ recently accounced their vision for a self driving truck which should be on the roads in 2015. Even more urgent is likely to be the self driving car, which is most likely to be developed by Google or Uber as a taxi-like service.

Driving is just one example of jobs that are likely to become irrelevant due to the progress of technology. What else? Customer service: using a kiosk, talking to a computer, or using an online service instead of interacting with a person. Brokers & agents for insurance, travel, real estate, cars, tax: replaced by websites allowing you to easily search for something cheaper or better value. I’m sure there are many more.