Computers can drive cars now. What does that mean for us as a society? As technology advances and computers learn to perform human tasks with greater efficiency than even humans themselves, how many of us will be left in the dust? Is there a way to ensure that we remain irreplaceable as workers?
The threat is still far in the future, so there’s no need to panic about it yet. However, the younger you are, the more you should be concerned. Which career paths should you choose to guard against automation takeover?
It’s one thing for technology to enable creative endeavors. Digital art tools like Photoshop and Illustrator have been monumentally useful for graphic artists. Camera advancements have made digital photography cheaper and more convenient than ever before. And how much music would we be missing out on if it weren’t for FL Studio and GarageBand?
Yet, even so, creative endeavors will never be replaced by computers. Art is an expression of human creativity, imagination, and improvisation – something that computers will never have.
Any child can say, “I’m a dog” and pretend to be a dog. Computers struggle to come up with the essence of “I” and the essence of “dog,” and they really struggle with coming up with what parts of “I-ness” and “dog-ness” should be usefully blended if you want to pretend to be a dog.
This is an important skill because creativity can be described as the ability to grasp the essence of one thing, and then the essence of some very different thing, and smash them together to create some entirely new thing.
David Brooks, “What Machines Can’t Do”
The world is home to hundreds of millions of sports fans. As a species, we love to play and we love to watch others play, and sports are the perfect expression of our tendency to play. Would a stadium full of soccer robots be entertaining to watch? Perhaps for a little while, but only for its novelty.
Sports are compelling because of the human narrative that lies under the surface. We aren’t so much drawn to a sport itself as we are to the players of that sport. The history, the rivalries, the athleticism, the stakes – that’s what we want to watch and computers will never be able to replicate that kind of excitement.
Healthcare & Medicine
On the one hand, the aspects of medicine that are entirely based on medical knowledge, technical expertise, and data analysis could be reasonably automated without much consequence. However, there are elements of healthcare that computers just aren’t capable of handling: bedside manner, making tough decisions from incomplete patient data, dealing with human psychology, and so on.
At the very least, there are a whole host of legal issues that would arise from putting a patient’s life in the hands of a medical robot that might malfunction and make a wrong decision. That threat alone would ensure that humans always have a place in healthcare.
Future technological advancements may change the landscape of education, but will never eradicate the need for human teachers. It’s true that online course sites are increasing in popularity, but the fact remains that the content of online courses doesn’t just materialize out of thin air. Someone needs to create it.
And what about teaching subjects that aren’t as objective as science and math, that aren’t simply based on knowledge? Would a computer be able to understand the nuances of music, art and literature, let alone teach it in a subjective manner? The possibility of that is doubtful, and even if it were to come to pass, it wouldn’t be for a long time.
Just as past mechanisation freed, or forced, workers into jobs requiring more cognitive dexterity, leaps in machine intelligence could create space for people to specialise in more emotive occupations, as yet unsuited to machines: a world of artists and therapists, love counsellors and yoga instructors.
Such emotional and relational work could be as critical to the future as metal-bashing was in the past, even if it gets little respect at first.
The Economist, “The Future of Jobs: The Onrushing Wave”
Plus, there will always be a demand for personal tutoring. Even if classrooms and courses could be taught without human involvement, computers will never be able to personalize the material on a student-to-student basis. For that, humans will always be needed.
For as long as automation has been a part of the human economy, there have always been mistakes. Machines break down. Metals rust. Cogs can wear out and motherboards can fry. Under perfect conditions, quality assurance wouldn’t be necessary. But in the real world, an error will crop up somewhere along the line and nobody but a human will be able to spot it.
Why not just create QA machines that look for errors? Because then you enter an infinite regression. What happens when the QA machine itself breaks down? Will there be a second QA machine for the first QA machine? At some point, you’ll need a human.
Politics & Law
Depending on how cynical you are about the state of world politics, politicians may as well be robots already. However, if we’re going to be serious about it, then it’s reasonable to assume that computers will never overtake the realm of politics.
Computers won’t be placed in charge of towns, cities, states, or countries. Computers won’t be creating new laws. Computers won’t be making judicial decisions. Governors, lawmakers, judges, and juries will always need some sense of human discernment that computers will never be able to offer.
In the end, the answer to “Which jobs are safe from computers?” is quite simple. Avoid the overlap between humans and computers and look at jobs that require an element of human behavior that computers cannot replicate: intuition, creativity, innovation, compassion, imagination, and so on. Those jobs will always be safe.
And what happens when computers become capable of those human traits? At that point, the distinction between humans and computers would be too blurred, and then the entire question becomes irrelevant.
What other jobs will computers never replace? Share what you think and comment below!