The idea that a machine can automate what we do doesn’t just threaten our livelihood, but also our culture. There’s an assumption that only non-skilled positions will be replaced, but it may be much wider than that. Due to the geographic nature of certain industries, we are expected to see the North of England more at risk than the South and women to be significantly worse off.
Office workers aren’t predicted to be much safer than labourers either – with the mass adoption of CRM software and office management tools. Businesses want to automate processes and repetitive tasks to enhance productivity, reducing human error for less cost.
Where humans still excel, however, is in having a specialism – professions and roles where the value of the service lies with the person. Whether that’s for the purpose of aesthetic pleasure or a legal matter, there are some areas where we’ll always take comfort in the opinion or work of an expert.
Here, we identify which roles are predicted to be automated and identify the types of specialists who will stand defiant.
Who could face automation?
Essentially, anyone who isn’t considered an expert. As mentioned, women are at a higher risk of automation to men. This specifically concerns the sectors they dominate as opposed to a gender bias. Nevertheless, bookkeepers, assistants and administration staff are at threat of being automated despite not being in manufacturing – the sector most commonly associated with an increase in robotics. In the UK, around 400,000 roles held by women in the public sector, banking and retail have been lost since 2011 – a figure not including private sector cashiers.
Two industries that are an exception to gender-affected automation are healthcare and education. According to a recent study, a quarter of Greater Manchester schools had no male teachers, and in 2016 only 11.4% of registered nurses were male. What’s telling though is that both healthcare and education are industries where a human element is imperative, and the public assumes expert knowledge. While there have been examples where robots can assist in the identification of tumours or teach prime numbers, the bulk of specialist support will always be human.
Similarly, In March 2018, a Swedish robotics company unveiled Tengai, a robot designed to conduct job interviews. The idea behind the project was that, too often in society, we judge candidates before effectively getting to know them. Tengai was designed to ignore unconscious biases based on gender, ethnicity, voice, education, appearance and interests. However, according to Dr Malin Lindelöw, gut feeling influences a decision and successfully automating a human’s thought process is unlikely.
Currently, overt attempts at AI and robotics have yet to be adopted into the mainstream. They don’t yet convey the same level of expertise that a human specialist offers, which has ultimately allowed some industries to avoid the impending robot revolution.
Which industries are safer?
While data can help inform decision, a machine can’t manufacture a building or vehicle in a way that’s innovative. What generally pleases us about a layout or product is that a person has constructed it. Most graphic design and construction achievements leave people in awe due to the fact they were created by individuals. When you consider monuments like the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum or the Great Wall of China, these structures draw in crowds because of humankinds’ ability to create something significant.
Have you seen a successful movie or work of art that was written by a computer? Us neither. Knowing that a computer had produced a feature-length film or a painting would create a sense of insincerity. Like architecture and design, we derive satisfaction from the notion that another individual is capable of suspending our imagination or inventing a fantasy that we can invest in. Automation can be used to either increase work efficiency by replicating artistic techniques or elevate our creative capabilities, but it can’t replace them.
But this isn’t just creative industries. Lawyers and counsellors don’t develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of the law for its own sake. Clients want a human to empathise with them, appreciate human instinct and read the nuances in between the lines. AI can support the business aspect of a law firm, for example, but cannot replace the demand to have an individual discuss sensitive matters where the speaker is partly paying for the human interaction.
Cleaning is another service that works based off of human understanding. People have been known to clean before a cleaner arrives. This is a consequence of our inherited understanding of what ‘clean’ means to us, as well as how we are perceived by others. A robot cannot read that level of core human understanding of what we personally deem is clean.
The value of an expert’s opinion
Specialist services are based on human standards and perceptions. We seek the advice of those who have the industry certification or recognition that implies skill. Those who can display a devotion to a specific ability (regardless of industry) will always be relied upon to help guide and support – just consider a cleaning and restoration specialist supporting those who have lost their home to water damage, or a fire.
In this example, the family lose more than bricks and mortar – they lose their home. A specialist understands the personal nature of the damage and can return the property to a condition that closely resembles what they lost. Specialists aren’t just individuals with niche knowledge, they understand how that niche knowledge impacts and can benefit others, and this is what keeps them protected from automation.
If you operate in an industry where you provide genuine comfort or understanding in the form of expert opinion, you are intrinsically more valuable to your customers. Seek out ways to apply your niche knowledge and skill set in a way that demonstrates devotion that a machine couldn’t replace. Repetitive processes with room for human error are the first to face the axe, so find ways to guarantee service or embrace technological advances to improve what you already do.