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The Jobs That Robots Will Never Be Able To Do

VO: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Nathan Sharp
Artificial Intelligence - It's taking over the world, right? Whatever your opinion of the way in which smart technology is shaping our lives, computerisation and digitalisation have revolutionised the workplace - and robots are an increasingly common sight! But what does that mean for us? For this video, we take a look at the jobs and careers that are safe from robot replacements... At least, for now!
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The Jobs that Robots Will Never be Able to Do


It feels like everything is automated these days. Whether it’s at the supermarket checkouts or while filling up at your local gas station, computerised transactions are the new normal. And that trend is only set to grow. A 2017 study by the McKinsey Global Institute hypothesized that, by just 2030, up to 800 million jobs all around the world could be handled by robots instead of people. It’s a figure which accounts for an astounding one-fifth of the entire planet’s workforce. To some extent, it’s difficult to predict which jobs will be most affected. And opinion does vary on whether it’d be a positive or negative change. But some kind of change is definitely on the horizon.

Some jobs have seemingly been on their way out for a while. Where once the world’s factories were manned by a workforce cutting, canning and compiling products, the conveyor belts of today are often computerised. Leading fast food restaurants, notably McDonald’s, have already replaced some human cashiers with sleek machines, as diners increasingly choose to order their food through a kiosk or app, rather than talking to another person. Throw in the growing market for robot-made meals, and it feels as though we’re just a few short years away from entire eateries being completely automated.

Other jobs often listed as ‘at risk’ include telemarketers, which anyone who’s ever been placed ‘on hold’ can probably relate to. But other, perhaps more surprising, positions are also tipped to disappear in favour of digital equivalents - including accountants. In an especially high-profile example, H&R Block is now using Watson, a high-functioning and intelligent robot, for much of its tax work. Other particularly prominent cases can be seen in various sports, where referees and umpires are increasingly working alongside automated systems that can usually do their jobs better than they can – did someone say VAR? At a glance, computers eliminate human error and increase efficiency, which are both major plus points.

So, what’s to stop the robots from taking over everything? All while we humans relax through our apparently idyllic lifestyles, where our day-to-day responsibilities are handled by high-tech helping hands? Well, there are some jobs that even the most enthusiastic advocates of automated advancement will admit may never be suitable for robots. They’re the ones that rely on complex, human thought patterns, the intricacies of our brains and the uniqueness of our personalities.

One major aspect of the human condition is our ability to empathise. So, jobs like therapists, nurses and any kind of caregivers aren’t likely to disappear any time soon, as they require compassion, consideration, instinct and relationship skills. Even ultra-advanced computers would be hard-pressed to correctly and safely diagnose a mental health issue, for example. And, even if they could, would you really want a machine to deliver the diagnosis? Or would you rather speak to a real, empathetic human being? Similarly, those in these positions often tend to the sick and needy, the elderly, or small children, so the role also requires a delicate, sensitive and caring touch… Another aspect that’d be lost if all medical aid was administered via a machine.

Another distinctly human strength is strategic and critical thinking. While advanced robots have already shown themselves to be talented at trivia, or to be able to file sample taxes and crunch sometimes quite complex numbers, their abilities largely amount to data processing. Even the most advanced AI offerings have so far failed to prove especially reactive, as they lack planning and strategizing skills that are even closely comparable to our own. Jobs in consultancy, politics or at the top tables of business are among those that perhaps seem safest from a robotic revolution. These types of positions require the development of complex human relationships, an awareness of changing dynamics, an ability to negotiate with partners and to co-ordinate team members, as well as the development of long-term, flexible plans (or short-term, rational solutions). It’d all spell some kind of sensory overload or cognitive meltdown for even the most brilliant computers currently available.

There’s also a need for relatability in many jobs – especially those that play out under the public eye. If a robot was running for president, for instance, would you vote for it? If TV news was delivered by a robot reporter, would you pay attention? How about television in general? Would even your favourite comedy be anywhere near as funny if the main actors were ditched in favour of automated versions of themselves? At first, probably yes. But over time, not likely.

The relatability issue wouldn’t only save high-profile personalities, though. Everyday jobs that require lots of compromise, persuasion, and (again) negotiation also appear safe from automation, at least for now. While the less personable telemarketers will be – and often already have been – replaced, most other sales roles look set to stay as they are. Particularly those centred on selling unique, expensive or luxury items, and including roles as either a manager or agent of another person (perhaps an athlete or musician). It’s the constant back-and-forth that these roles entail that robots would struggle to deal with, as no two transactions are ever identical. To be successful in sales, you have to understand what you want, but also what the other person wants or is aiming for. And, while humans can turn on a charm offensive to seal the deal, current robots are much too one-dimensional.

In a similar vein, we’re still a very long way from our courts of law becoming computerised – with many assuring that they never will be. In particular, lawyers need a vast understanding of the human condition. They need to be able to react under pressure, speak persuasively, build a complex case, present evidence, and convince a jury – which, at this stage, we’re assuming are still definitely human. The justice system just isn’t something that translates into code, and the stakes are far too high for a ‘one-robot-fits-all’ type of approach. If every sales transaction is different, then every criminal case is even more so – and there are entire livelihoods resting on the outcome.

However, there are still two fields even less likely to be taken over by robots; sport and the arts. Elite athletes needn’t fret over claims of an automated uprising, because being an athlete essentially requires you to be a human. It’s what makes sport fun to watch, challenging to play, and generally worthwhile. It’s all about what can (or can’t) be achieved by the human body. Throw a pre-programmed, designed-to-win robot into the mix, and a lot of what makes sport interesting instantly disappears. The unexpected highs; the heart-breaking lows; the drama of the competition. If every competitor was perfect, it’d all go to script and no one would watch.

And finally, our futuristic focus falls on the creatives. Surely they – more than anyone else – can sleep easy? Regardless of whether or not our everyday lives are one day riddled with robots, we’d still need people – as in real people – to play music, act in or direct our favorite movies, write the next great piece of literature, or create breathtaking works of art. Once again, it boils down to the human condition, and our human attempts to understand it. Part of what makes art beautiful is the knowledge that someone else created it. Could a robot ever achieve or incite that same satisfaction? Sure, a robot piece on a technical par with the Mona Lisa would be pretty impressive… But the creativity, passion and story behind it would still be lacking. It will’ve been created by a creation. So much so, that if a machine ever did manage to make anything comparable to a human artwork, then we’d no doubt chiefly celebrate whoever built the robot – rather than the robot itself.

So, if you’re a mathematician, engineer or computer programmer, you could soon be styling yourself as an artist as well!. But, if you’re none of those things and you just like to draw, sing, paint or play guitar, then there’s no need to worry – if our future world really is replete with robots, there will likely be an even bigger market for your definitely human skills!
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