A few years ago when I worked for a local community bank in Austin, a long-time customer approached my teller window with a puzzled look on his face. He asked me, "Why doesn't your bank's drive-through ATM accept deposits?"
A little confused on how to respond, I jokingly quipped, "I'm not sure, but I'm glad it doesn't, because I really like my job!" The man smiled and understood where I was coming from. He happily let me complete his deposit.
But as soon as he left the bank, I knew that my days as a bank teller were numbered. If I didn't find another career soon, I would be as obsolete as a TV repairman.
You can reason that technology makes for a more productive economy with less expensive goods, just as you can fear that technology may someday take your job.
But whatever view you have on the subject, the reality is that as technology continues to progress, folks in the workforce must continuously change and adjust -- however painful that may be -- right along with it.
So with technology becoming more sophisticated and sometimes designed specifically to perform human labor functions, what professions may be at risk in the future? As you might expect, many jobs that require a lower skill set are being automated, just as they have been for the past few decades. But as you'll see, not just any job is safe from technology.
Here are seven American jobs potentially threatened by automation and robots:
1. Adult Escorts
We knew somebody would go there: A New Jersey-based company called TrueCompanion.com has created what it calls "the world's first sex robot." Meet the anatomically correct Roxxxy -- yes, with three X's in the name.
At a price of $7,000 to $9,000, Roxxxy can be sexually intimate, cuddle and even chat with her human partner. This companion robot, which is connected through laptop cables to fully operate, has touch sensors and the technology to verbally respond when it's being moved.
There's still some room for this escort-like robot to become more advanced (it still is unable to move on its own), but it's a true testament that no job -- even an escort's -- is quite safe from being automated.
2. Surgeon Assistants
Performing surgery is a delicate art that requires a steady hand, excellent vision and extensive knowledge. One wrong move couldserious complications or death for a patient. So how would you feel if your surgeon used a robot to assist while performing surgery on you?
It's already happening. Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci Surgical System allows doctors to operate on patients with a console-controlled robot system. The doctor can control the robot's slender arms to enter the patient's body in places human hands cannot. And because the small robotic arms require smaller incision points in the body, there is also less post-surgery scarring.
Despite its cost -- an extra $1,500 to $2,000 per patient surgery -- the robotic technology is in high demand by patients and doctors for prostate surgeries. In 2009, 86% of the 85,000 American men who had prostate cancer surgery had robot-assisted operations, according to Intuitive Surgical.
Photo credit: By Ars Electronica
The star at board-meeting time and office break time, Apple's iPad is now making some headway into dinnertime.
A restaurant called Stacked in Torrance, Calif., allows guests to order up their favorite burgers, salad or pizzas -- and choose their own toppings -- right from their table-mounted iPad. And diners don't have to flag down a waiter to say "check, please" anymore either -- the dinner bill is sent to the iPad and can be split and paid for by credit card. The technology definitely gives waiters a reason to sweat -- even off the clock.
For now, waiters can expect to keep their bustling day job. While electronic ordering systems are catching some buzz, experts in the restaurant business still regard them as a gimmick.
Photo credit: By Marc van der Chijs
4. Fast Food Workers
Fast food workers will have a little more cause for worry than restaurant waiters. Self-serve, electronic ordering systems likely will play a much larger role in fast food, where customers have come to expect service with quick and high accuracy.
McDonald's, for example, already has installed self-serve, touch-screen ordering systems in 800 of its European restaurants. Customers can custom-order their Big Macs with a touch of the screen, and long lines and miscommunications of the past (the ones that involved yelling and straining to listen through scratchy drive-through speakers) are all avoided.
The touch-screen systems have made operations easier for McDonald's store owners and managers, too. Instead of having to hire, train and retrain a team of cashiers and food order operators that often leave for higher-skilled and higher paying work, franchise owners simplyin a serviceperson to perform some routine maintenance on the machines to keep them running.
American fast food workers can rest easy for now. McDonald's may have 7,000 touch-screen kiosks for its restaurants in Europe, but it hasn't announced plans to bring them to the United States.
Photo credit: By voteprime
5. Military Troops
Of all the jobs that may be replaced by robots, this one could very well be the most controversial. The MAARS, or Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System, designed by Foster-Miller, may save American lives while changing the face of warfare.
Originally a remote-controlled rover designed to scout and dispose of bombs in the early days of the Iraq war, the MAARS was modified to carry machine guns, grenade launchers or rockets.
Don't worry, these machines haven't fired one bullet in combat, but they're getting closer to it. According to Wired, the MAARS machine has a GPS transmitter and carries software that allows the robot's driver to select fire and no-fire zones -- preventing the robot from shooting an American soldier.
These machines aren't all cold; MAARS has a helpful, pacifist side to it as well. The mounted weapon can be switched out for a robotic arm that can open doors, inspect potentially deadly IEDs and even pull injured soldiers to safety.
6. Journalists and Reporters
Even my current career may be threatened by automation in the not-so-distant future. Computer software originally co-developed by the engineering and journalism schools of Northwestern University is already being used to "write" stories typically produced by sportswriters and some financial writers.
The software, offered by the group Narrative Science, works by converting numbers-based spreadsheet data into organized facts and developing angles to make those facts interesting (for example, "who made the most runs in the baseball game?"). After the software uses an algorithm to fit those puzzle pieces together, an article is produced within minutes -- no beat reporter required.
The Fox Cable-owned Big Ten Network already uses Narrative Science's software. Reporters are thrown out of the game entirely when scorekeepers email game data to Narrative Science, which processes the data and sends fresh articles to the sports network. The software also can convert financial data into an article about a stock's performance or even a business report.
According to a story by Wired, CTO and cofounder of Narrative Science Kristian Hammond predicts that 90% of all news stories will be written by computers in 15 years.
7. Live Musicians and Other Performers
Audiences at the annual super-hip Coachella Music Festival in Indio, Calif., were shocked in April when they witnessed rapper Tupac Shakur alive on stage, 16 years after his death. No, the legendary rapper didn't emerge from hiding -- he was merely transformed into a hologram.
In a joint venture by James Cameron's visual production house Digital Domain, along with hologram imaging companies Musion Systems and AV Concepts, Shakur was brought back to life in digital form. Digital 2Pac greeted the crowd with, "What's up, Coachella!?" and joined old friends Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg for two songs.
It's not the first time holograms have been used to complement live performers. The 2006 Grammys featured a holographic Madonna singing alongside a holograph version of the band Gorillaz.
While it may be a bit eerie to think of bringing back Elvis or reuniting all four of the Beatles, imagine popular musicians performing in 20 cities simultaneously. It remains to be seen how the fans will receive holograms, but if they catch on, live performers may not be too happy to have to compete with deceased stars for consumers' entertainment dollar.
Photo credit: By Lucy Lang
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