In the recent ITV television science fiction series “Humans” robots were depicted as being virtually indistinguishable from human beings and some even developed emotions. But is science fiction becoming science fact? Will robots put your job at risk?
The recent news headlines on the artificial intelligence have sparked debate over what robots can and cannot do. The article that started it all off was published by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osbourne in September 2013. Called “The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?” the article attempted to categorise various occupations according to their susceptibility to computerisation and went on to estimate the probability of computerisation for 702 different occupations.
So what makes a job susceptible to automation? It’s certainly true that some aspects of a job are simpler to automate than others and this has already lead to significant use of “robots” and computers to replace human toil: the automotive industry being an obvious example of this.
Whilst robots are still clumsy at certain manual tasks (such as picking up a pencil) advances in technology are making big strides into these areas. Industrial robots are gaining the ability to make ever more coordinated finger and hand movements and so will be able to perform a wide range of increasingly complex manual tasks that may eventually threaten jobs such as gardening or housekeeping, which robots are currently rubbish at doing due to the unstructured environment that these activities occur in.
Computers using sophisticated algorithms are also challenging a number of office and administrative support roles, particularly in the legal and the financial service sectors where computers are already being used to scan the many documents used in pre-trial research.
But computers and robots, however advanced, are unlikely to fully replace all jobs. Jobs which require a high level of empathy or roles that require you to “think on your feet” and be creative are most likely to be safe. It’s also thought that jobs which need a high degree of social intelligence and negotiating skills are less at risk from robots. A fun tool has been published by the BBC that allows you to check how at risk your job is.
So what can you do if your job role could be done by a robot? The answer is to commit to a lifetime of practicing and updating your skills. Lifetime learning, training and retraining will be key to acquiring the skills robots will never have!