Will robots (still) take my job?

TechHQ looks back on some of the jobs tipped to be at risk of automation, and just how those forecasts are faring.
20 December 2018

Disclaimer: They won’t all look this friendly. Source: Shutterstock

Many of us have read science-fiction novels and had our eyes glued to scenes of futuristic movies displaying visions of a dystopian landscape.

Such scenes often describe a hellish world scarred by war and famine, with humans leading a life of misery and unemployment as a cult of emotionless robots take control of our earth.

While these depictions are something of a nightmare, the arrival of ‘job-snatching robots’ is no longer a question of if, but rather when. It seems these works of fiction, created from pure imagination— or perhaps more worryingly, acute foresight— are rapidly becoming reality.

Many industries are beginning to leverage robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) in their operations giving rise to an automated workforce. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, it’s predicted that by 2030, as many as 800 million workers worldwide could be replaced at work by robots.

The idea of machines with metal hearts and algorithmic veins having the ability to perform actions as well as humans has many of us wondering if our jobs are safe. And while many argue that the automation of menial tasks will allow us to focus on value-adding tasks, the reality is… perhaps they’re not.

It’s become quite ordinary to wake up in the morning and read about yet another job being replaced by automation, from cashier-less stores are becoming more advanced and commonplace— to the rise of chatbots in place of customer service agents.

When it comes to how at risk your job or sector is of being usurped by the rise of machines, a website now ranks common roles across multiple industries based on a widely-referenced 2013 Oxford study named The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerization?.

Of course, while the study is now rather dated, at the turn of the year, let’s take a look at a few examples of the jobs which were predicted as high risk of automation, and how these same forecasts stand today.

Accountants and auditors: 94 percent

According to the study, things aren’t looking great for the accountants and auditors of the world, with an automation risk rate of 94 percent.

An increasing number of finance departments are exploring automation options to manage the manual tasks of an accountant such as entering invoices, writing checks, the creation of countless spreadsheets and formulas to manage workflow, and more.

In fact, results from a 2017 PwC study show that 40 percent of the accounts payable (AP) process can be automated.

The thing with us humans is we are prone to miscalculations, typos, and other, well, human, errors. Robots, on the other hand, are much more accurate and work a whole lot faster! A recent survey showed that accuracy was boosted by 6.74 percent when companies trusted robots with AP processes. Furthermore, AP automation was shown to process 4.11 times more invoices than accountants carrying it out manually.

With benefits such as these, it’s not hard to see just why finance departments are turning to automation.

Taxi drivers and chauffeurs: 89 percent

Another job role under the radar for a strong automation risk is drivers of automobiles, vans, or other vehicles used to transport passengers.

Automated cars pose a very real threat to the many workers who drive for a living- including 2.9 million truckers and delivery drivers, 674,000 bus drivers, and 181,000 cab drivers and chauffeurs.

Developments in automation are well advanced in the automotive area, with car manufacturers such as BMW, Ford, Mercedes Benz and now Audi all armed with plans to launch self-driving taxis in three years.

Uber has already introduced a form of self-driving taxi in Pittsburgh; self-driving leader Waymo has just launched its commercial service; the city of Tokyo has been trialing driverless taxis in preparation for the 2020 Summer Olympics; and taxi firm Addison Lee is progressively working on digitally mapping public roads in and around London in preparation for its vehicles to be on the road in just three years’ time.

Despite this heavy investment and progression, it’s feared by many that the technology is being deployed before it is ready. Just a few months ago, Uber temporarily suspended self-driving tests in all cities in the US and Canada following a fatal accident. Meanwhile, Waymo’s fleet still requires human operators to oversee its cars are operating safely for the foreseeable future— and that’s not to mention to the tangles of red tape still to be negotiated in governmental regulation.

So, perhaps it’ll be a little while longer until these jobs are completely under the wrath of automation.

Real estate agent: 86 percent

Another job at risk of automation, according to the study, is real estate agents. Technology–also known as ‘PropTech’— has been making waves in the industry in recent years, automating various processes that were once the responsibility of human professionals.

Virtual reality is enabling buyers to go on property tours from the comfort of their own homes, eliminating the need to book in meetings with agents and travel across cities.

Blockchain is providing the potential for people to be able to pay using only digital currency and to close a deal between different parties via a set of encryptions on the technology. This process could significantly speed up the convoluted house-buying process.

Many have concerns that the increased adoption of technology in various sectors will result in job losses, but should it really be feared? Some may argue that at its very core, automation will help professionals such as real estate agents and accountants perform their jobs better, with the ability to focus on more value-driven projects as opposed to mundane tasks.

With every new technology that has emerged, it could be argued that humanity has been enhanced, creating new kinds of jobs much safer and better than factory jobs and other roles under the radar of automation.