Imagine that you’re about to leave school and deciding on what to do next… It’s not as easy as you might think. Not just because of your aptitudes and passions, but because so many occupations currently held by human beings will eventually be replaced by automation of some sort. Whether Artificial Intelligence, Robots or just dumb machines, there are a LOT of jobs that exist right now which won’t be in your Careers Master’s buff folder a few years from today.
So, what jobs are ’safe’ for the foreseeable future – say the next forty years? Given that a school leaver will probably want to retire at around sixty, that seems to make sense. So let’s fast forward to living in 2057.
In fact, let’s start by looking at dying in 2057. It’s the one thing that EVERYONE does eventually. The funeral direction industry in the UK is currently worth £1 billion and employs about 6,000 people. That’s pretty good money, and it’s a service that automation just won’t sit comfortably with. In the US the figures are $20 billion and 130,000 people. So, if you’re looking for a rock solid, never-will-be-done-by-robots industry, that’s a banker.
Something else you might consider is Classic Car engineering and maintenance. The sort of job where experience and intuition counts, as well as a hands-on feel for what’s happening under the bonnet. For example, parts – although they can be reproduced if you have the time and the tech – are probably better made and better appreciated when hand-crafted. Given the spectacular rise in the value of these machines, the hourly rate chargeable will be pretty decent. In fact, restoration in general is a pretty good bet – from architecture to antiques, restoration of all kinds will be better appreciated and MUCH harder for a mechanical intelligence to do than a human hand.
And of course, the Handyman will become much more vital in a future when the skills that make them so useful are getting increasingly rare thanks to our throwaway society. A trained general maintenance expert will never go unrewarded.
Fine Art is another area you might consider if you have any aptitude, skill or creativity. But don’t think that it’s safe from artificial creativity. It’s just that we’ll be in competition with the hardware. Music is the same. However, I believe that people will always prefer to go to a gig or own a piece of artwork that has had a touch of humanity about it. But in forty years’ time, I could be very wrong about that.
Professional sports are a good bet too. We care about the players and participants for their abilities but also for their humanity and stories. We want to really care about the people taking part. And that’s just not going to be the case when a player is soulless. Yes, Computer games are popular – very popular – but do we really care if a CGI player is hurt? Or more importantly battles through to succeed? And the concomitant punditry will also be hard for artifice to replace.
Medicine in general may be able to be carried out by machines and in most areas will certainly be mostly machine operated. However, there are some safer disciplines within medicine… Areas of treatment that rely on ‘talking therapy’ such as psychology, psychiatry, counselling and so forth are much better practised by humans – even though in some cases the data might be better utilised by machines to create remedies.
Childcare is another arena where we would probably feel uncomfortable having our progeny cared for by machines, but if those machines are running Asimov’s three laws, then they couldn’t possibly be in safer ‘hands’.
Cookery is a craft that will difficult (although not impossible) for technology to replace, so training as a chef is a good idea. It’s bloody hard work, though and like acting, few make it to a point where they can make a very good living from it. And anyway, IBM is already looking at cookery with Watson
There are some professions which will probably always be human-only. Politicians for example will probably always be human. I’m not saying that this is a good thing, just that we would probably not want to be told what to do by our Robot overlords even though they’d likely make a better fist of it. We could lump in lawyers with politicians, except that I don’t know that we’d be that worried about the lawyers losing their income – and anyway IBM’s Watson is working here, too. It’s taking the Bar exam in a US state (and will probably ace it) and ROSS is already advising law firms.
So, when I’m approached by friends who ask me what I think their kids should be studying to ensure a role in the society of the future, it’s not an easy question to answer. But frankly to a large extent it doesn’t really matter, because by the time they retire the world will be working in a way that we probably don’t even understand today, let alone feel qualified to predict. Think back forty years and remember that there are jobs today that wouldn’t have existed in 1977. And the world is only moving faster.
However, if anyone knows of a youngster with great mechanical aptitude, then, please advise them to think about becoming a classic vehicle engineer and restorer on the purely selfish criterion that I’ll always need someone to look after my car!