28 jobs endangered by technology

Rick Newman
In this Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 photo, Rosser Pryor, co-owner and President of Factory Automation Systems, right, looks over plans with John Ridgley, project manager, next to a high-performance industrial robot at the company's Atlanta facility. Factory Automation Systems cut 40 of 100 workers since the recession and instead is investing in automation and software. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The technology revolution has already put a lot of travel agents, bank tellers, print journalists and assembly-line workers out of a job. But there may be much more disruption to come.

The Pew Research Center recently canvassed more than 1,800 technology experts to ascertain how the digital revolution is likely to change the job market during the next decade. The experts are split on the key question of whether new technology, on the whole, will destroy more jobs than it creates. But it seems clear there will be continued turmoil in the workplace as software, robots and other types of machines are increasingly able to do jobs currently done by humans.

New technology has always been scary, because it makes old technology — and the workers whose jobs are linked to it — obsolete. Almost every technology revolution has come with dire warnings of new machines lording it over humans. That never quite happens, however, because innovation creates new industries, makes workers more productive and raises living standards. Washing machines put laundresses out of work but created many new design and manufacturing jobs — while also making home life far less tedious.

The problem with technology, however, is that some workers inevitably get trapped between the old and the new — committed to a dying field and unable, for whatever reason, to adapt. It helps if you can foresee change and prepare for what’s coming. So here’s a list of 28 jobs (some grouped together) that might be done by machines in 2025, with a bit of commentary on why they are endangered — and what the experts making such predictions might be overlooking:

Accountants. Computers are basically fancy calculators, and the smarter they get about complex decision-making, the more accounting work they’ll be able to do.

Actors. Software is already used to generate crowd scenes in movies. “Software agents will work their way up … to smaller speaking roles, and eventually to fully automated ‘live’ films,” one expert predicted in the Pew study.

Administrative assistants. Siri, or her descendants, will answer phones, schedule appointments and manage the office. The boss might still need a trusted aide to help with delicate workplace situations.

Bus, train and taxi drivers. Automakers are already experimenting with self-driving cars, with the technology likely to arrive in public transportation eventually. What’s not clear is whether passengers will be comfortable if there’s no human at the helm.

Parking lot attendants. Once cars are self-driving, they’ll also be self-parking (although tight lots in places like New York City might keep attendants employed longer than elsewhere).

Checkout clerks. If anybody still shops in stores in 2025, they’ll pay an automated attendant that knows how to package purchases.

Cops and firefighters. "Robocop" wasn’t just a movie. Automated public safety bots make sense for dangerous situations and routine matters such as traffic stops.

Custodians. Robots can already vacuum, so mopping a floor can’t be far behind.

Customer service reps. You’ll yearn for that faceless person in Omaha or Bangalore when computers start fielding every complaint.

Doctors. A robot called “doc-in-a-box” could help diagnose routine medical problems in rural areas, while other machines will perform surgeries and other procedures. We’ll still need real docs to oversee and manage healthcare decisions.

Medical technicians. Computers will be able to diagnose test results as well as people.

Personal care aides. They may not show empathy, but robots will be able to do many other things needed to care for sick or elderly patients.

Lawyers. “Predictive coding algorithms” are already able to do much of the legal research lawyers do. Before long, “there will be many thousands of lawyers out of work,” one legal expert told Pew. Don’t all weep at once.

Garbage collectors. Once trucks can drive themselves, watch for robots able to load them with garbage.

Securities traders. Computers already execute about half the trades on exchanges. Flash boys will eventually become flash bots.

Investment advisors. Algorithms will be able to provide investing options for people with typical and even sophisticated financial planning needs.

Pilots and ship captains. Computers already do most of the navigational work, anyway.

Passport checkers at border control. Automated gates could handle most travelers. Live agents would still be needed to address security issues.

Teachers and librarians. Some technologists regard them as “low-level information workers” who do routine work computers could replicate. (Sorry.)

Ticket clerks at movie theaters. Checking tickets and tearing them in half is so 20th-century.

Translators. Software is getting P.D.G. at understanding dialects and linguistic quirks.

Warehouse workers. Smart machines will pack, sort and transport packages, a boon for retailers such as Amazon (AMZN) eager to squeeze every penny of cost from their operations.

Yard workers. Suburbanites will worship the robotic lawnmower.

If this list seems depressing, keep in mind that an army of new workers will be needed to design, build, test, refine, maintain and dispose of all the robots that will be at our service in the future. So far, robots don’t know how to design themselves.

Rick Newman’s latest book is Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback To Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman.