You’re reading this on a screen. You probably work much of the day on a screen, or in repetitive motions. A new report suggests that almost 50% of positions are “vulnerable” to automation and elimination. Is your pointing, clicking, and thinking at risk?
The story comes from MIT’s Technology Review which in turn discusses research done at Oxford University:
[Approximately 45 percent of American jobs are at high risk of being taken by computers within the next two decades.
Computers will start replacing people in especially vulnerable fields like transportation/logistics, production labor, and administrative support. Jobs in services, sales, and construction may also be lost in this first stage. Then, the rate of replacement will slow down due to bottlenecks in harder-to-automate fields such engineering. This “technological plateau” will be followed by a second wave of computerization, dependent upon the development of good artificial intelligence. This could next put jobs in management, science and engineering, and the arts at risk.
In the case of this study, however, the future me may be slightly different than the authors predict. Instead of half of all American jobs going the way of the gas station attendant, the milkman, and the telephone operator, the future of employee productivity is about half of all current work becoming fully automated and computerized.
Think of it this way: How much of the work that you do today involves manipulating information or objects in a way that doesn’t require much decision making? You are probably copying-and-pasting, typing the same words, or saying the same phrases multiple times throughout the workweek. You may be duplicating efforts you did yesterday, just because there is no program or robot to do it for you.
Of course, much of the work you do is highly individualized and could not be replaced by an Excel macro. However, just as writing an email is far faster than sending an interoffice memo, so too are there countless tiny activities you complete that will be made more efficient or eliminated altogether in the years to come.
But don’t worry that your entire job will disappear overnight. Even the researchers agree:
“Our findings thus imply that as technology races ahead, low-skill workers will reallocate to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerization—i.e., tasks that required creative and social intelligence,” the authors write. “For workers to win the race, however, they will have to acquire creative and social skills.”
Work is about the value you provide, not simply the tasks you complete. In the future, we’ll be more productive not because we work harder, but because the hard work we do will better express our creativity, our ingenuity, and our humanity.