5 Jobs Technology Can Do Better than Humans

By Aliah D. Wright Jun 24, 2015
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It’s not the future envisioned in the films “The Terminator” or “The Matrix,” but the rise of the machines is real.

Some jobs are at great risk of complete automation—and that may not necessarily be a bad thing, according to global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The research firm points out it will be up to chief information officers to make sure these machines can be trusted to do the jobs they’re supposed to do.

“It may seem, at times, that robots, computers and other technological advancements will deem humans obsolete in the workplace,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a news release. “However, automation has been going on for decades now and we still need humans in most of the settings where robotics have made the greatest inroads. That being said, there definitely are some jobs that are at high risk of being entirely automated within our lifetimes,” Challenger said.

His sentiments echoed those of Gartner Research Inc. Research Director Yvette Cameron, during a session at Human Resource Executive magazine’s HR Technology & Exposition conference held in Las Vegas in 2014.

“The era of smart machines is upon us,” Cameron said. Smart machines, she added, are “surprising us.” There are vehicles that can drive themselves, and ones that can extract meaning from large bodies of text. They can answer the question: “Technology can’t do that, can it?”

There are even robots that observe human behavior, predict needs and act to help individuals—for example, those in assisted living facilities.

These machines “extend our capability—they do things we simply can’t,” she said, adding that there are even machines that can “protect us from unconscious biases and detect unanticipated novel patterns, and they scare us. Do we really want machines to do that?”

Here are five professions at risk of becoming replaced by technology:

Journalists

While a computer could never observe an event and convey its meaning or significance to the masses, programs can. Wordsmith, a program created by Automated Insights and used by wire services such as the world’s largest news gathering organization, the Associated Press, routinely issues automatically generated news items on sports scores, weather reports and earnings reports, Challenger revealed. So, while some journalists still will be necessary, the number needed will continue to shrink, as will the demand for editors and other professions related to the delivery of news.

Cab Drivers and Truckers

In 2012, Google began road-testing a group of six driverless cars in Mountain View, Calif. The fleet now includes 23 cars, which have all logged more than several hundred thousand miles and incurred only a dozen minor traffic accidents (each of which was caused by the drivers of other vehicles), according to Challenger.

In comparison, the trucking industry, however, logged 268,000 miles in 2012 and trucks were involved in 77,000 accidents in which injuries were reported and 3,802 accidents resulting in at least one fatality, Challenger stated.

“While autonomous driving will certainly help America’s driving public, the earliest and most beneficial practical application could be to replace the nation’s long-haul truckers and cab drivers,” according to Challenger. “These career drivers, while providing a valuable service to the economy, often do so at the expense of public and personal safety. Fatigue, pressure to deliver goods and/or people quickly, and weak oversight have led to higher-than-average accident rates. Additionally, cab drivers are particularly prone to robberies and homicide. Both professions consistently rank high among the deadliest jobs in America.”

Umpires

Baseball parks are already using technologys to evaluate strike zones. Since 2009, the Zone Evaluation system can cover every angle of a pitch, photographing pitches more than 20 times before they get to the plate. The Major League Baseball’s Gameday app for tablets and smartphones includes this technology, making it easier for people watching at home to see whether the umpire is calling a play right. The data comes in real time and the technology rarely makes a mistake .

Psychologists

Ellie is a new software program that is designed to diagnose depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in veterans. Featured in a National Public Radio piece, the program doesn’t just observe behaviors—it analyzes voice tone and inflection, facial and eye movements, and whether the speaker looks down or leans away. It even evaluates the authenticity of the speaker’s smile to render a diagnosis. In a study, Ellie was found to be just as successful in diagnosing PTSD and depression as were a large pool of psychologists.

“While this technology may not ever replace human mental health professionals, the ability to diagnose mental health using data could not only convince more patients to receive help, but also set a treatment course more efficiently than humans,” according to Challenger.

Disc Jockeys

Over the past several decades, the radio industry has seen a lot of changes. One of the most significant has been consolidation. Thousands of stations nationwide are now operated by a small number of media conglomerates, which save money by simply broadcasting computer-generated playlists to various markets. For example, as Challenger points out, Clear Channel alone operates 1,200 stations nationwide. And while digital streaming has replaced traditional radio for many listeners, many more are using algorithm-generated playlists courtesy of music streaming services such as Spotify, Rdio and Pandora. Recently, Apple Music announced that it would—through Beats One radio station—have real, human disc jockeys (DJs) spin tunes as well as interview musicians. It will be able to reach millions of potential listeners with just a handful of on-air personalities.

“Reaching that many listeners in the pre-Internet era would have taken hundreds, if not thousands, of DJs and other personnel,” according to Challenger.

The Ethics Involved

However, while the rise of machines is real, it will take real humans to make sure “Terminator”-like scenarios don’t take place. That will require trust.

“Clearly, people must trust smart machines if they are to accept and use them,” said Frank Buytendijk, research vice president and analyst at Gartner, in a news release on why chief information officers should be prepared to make sure these machines have ethical programming. “The ability to earn trust must be part of any plan to implement artificial intelligence or smart machines, and will be an important selling point when marketing this technology. [Chief information officers] must be able to monitor smart machine technology for unintended consequences of public use and respond immediately, embracing unforeseen positive outcomes and countering undesirable ones.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM. Reach her via Twitter @1SHRMScribe or on Facebook/aliahwrites.

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