How to Prepare for the Future of Work

By BrainStation May 15, 2019

There’s been a lot of talk about a looming robot uprising.

But it’s not the science fiction kind, where man and machine are battling it out with the help of Terminator cyborgs. Instead, it’s the career kind, where jobs around the world are increasingly at risk of a technological takeover.

One 2017 study from McKinsey Global Institute looked at hundreds of occupations across nearly 50 countries — and found roughly one-fifth of the global workforce, or around 800 million workers, will lose their jobs to automation by 2030.

Another study from Oxford University, back in 2013, determined nearly half of all American workers will likely see their jobs automated over the next two decades, with some roles more at risk than others.

So what jobs will — or won’t — survive the rise of artificial intelligence? And are there any ways to ensure your own career isn’t taken out Terminator-style by new technology?

Why Some Jobs are Likely to Disappear

Overall, one thing is clear, according to Maura Grossman, a Research Professor at the University of Waterloo’s computer science department: “AI is likely to be transformative in virtually every sector of the economy,” she says.

During prior industrial revolutions, blue-collar workers were most impacted, Grossman adds. But she says the “fourth industrial revolution” will impact workers across-the-board — from truck drivers to knowledge workers, like lawyers, doctors, and journalists.

But that doesn’t mean certain roles aren’t more likely to disappear or change amid the rise of automation and AI.

“It’s been said that jobs that don’t require too much creativity or intuition are the most at risk,” says Frank Rudzicz, an Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s computer science department and director of AI for Surgical Safety Technologies Inc.

According to the Oxford researchers, you can plot the likelihood of jobs being computerized based on those variables. The team found roles like telemarketers, dishwashers, and court clerks are all more at risk than jobs requiring more creative skills and social intelligence.

“Autonomous vehicles and drones are likely the first technologies that will replace jobs, both in transportation and delivery services, but, even so, there will still be a need for dispatchers,” says Grossman.

“The truth is, most jobs will change in the same way that weavers gave way to loom operators, and dishwashers gave way to dishwasher operators.”

Why Certain Jobs Are More Likely to Evolve

Despite the widespread impact of automation, most fields will still need the input of humans, Grossman says.

That means plenty of jobs will change without vanishing entirely, she explains, including knowledge workers, with machines tackling the easily-automated portions of those roles, freeing up humans to “do more with the same or even less effort.”

Think of dental professions retaining some aspects of their roles, like in-person consultations and performing surgeries, while leaving scan analysis up to AI. Or writers flexing their creative muscles on their next novel, while using technology to crank out press releases or website copy.

“Perhaps comedians and athletes are irreplaceable,” Grossman adds. “There will always be a need for the human touch in hospice care.”

Rudzicz, however, says there may not be anything that only a human can do.

“AI is already infiltrating the creative domain – writing coherent short stories, producing art, or composing music in the style of any composer you like,” he says. “All jobs are replaceable – it’s just a matter of time, maybe a long time, although I don’t know if a truly intelligent AI would go into politics.”

How to Ensure Your Career is Safe From Automation

With AI and automation touching seemingly every job and industry to some degree, how can workers stay relevant, or even use these technological advancements to their advantage?

Both Grossman and Rudzicz say it all comes down to education.

It will be necessary for people to engage in lifelong education because technology will evolve so rapidly that the tool being used one day, will be completely different from the one deployed five or ten years after that,” Grossman says.

BrainStation’s Machine Learning courses, for instance, are one way to stay abreast of current technology and what it means.

The second key piece is actually trying AI out for yourself, according to Rudzicz, by using online tools like TensorFlow or PyTorch to help build your own little systems. “By building these yourself you can get a sense as to what these things can actually do and what they cannot,” he says.

The bottom line? If you’re flexible and can adapt to change quickly, you’ll thrive — but anyone who’s rigid might not, Grossman says.

“Soft skills like good judgment, empathy, collaboration, and leadership, will never go out of style,” she adds.