Automation By the Numbers: What It Might Mean for Your Job

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Citing the results of an Oxford study released last year, Bill Gates remarked earlier this month that half the workforce would be lost to software automation within 20 years. The study predicts that within two decades, 47 percent of American jobs are at high risk of being replaced by automation, and even skilled careers — such as lawyers or anesthesiologists – are not immune. But what does that mean for you and the future of your career? Here are some answers, broken down by the numbers (statistics are taken from the Bureau of Labor).

Healthcare and social assistance

While there are some automation advances in healthcare, such as IBM’s Jeopardy-winning Watson making headlines with its diagnostic skills and Johnson & Johnson’s Sedasys, healthcare occupations requiring social intelligence — such as doctors, nurses and social workers – currently seem safe. While not likely to threaten the profession, surgery has seen increasing automation in the past decade. In 2006, Intuitive Surgical’s DaVinci system made news when it successfully performed cardiac surgery on a patient in Italy while the surgeon controlling the procedure was in Boston. In 2012, the DaVinci system performed or assisted in 450,000 procedures worldwide.

Retail

Currently counting 15 million employees in its workforce, that number is likely to be strongly reduced by a 92 percent chance of automatization, according to the Oxford study. Self-checkout lanes at pharmacy and grocery chains across the country have become commonplace in recent years, as well as automated retailers for brands such as Best Buy and Macy’s in malls and airports.

Education

This sector is statistically pretty safe, as the field requires both social and creative intelligence skills. However, the Oxford study concludes that teachers’ assistants have a 56 percent probability of computerization, while data generated by Massive Online Open Courses will allow for customizable interactive tutors, such as the Intelligent Tutorial Systems that Microsoft is currently researching.

Manufacturing

This is another industry due to see heavy automation. Team assemblers, making up the almost half the industry, stand at a 97 percent probability of job loss, while machinists and building inspectors are due to fare better, at an estimated 65 percent. Manufacturing has been steadily automating for years, with Japan operating a “lights out,” or fully automated factory, since 2001. Philips runs an automated plant, with the exception of nine quality assurance workers, in the Netherlands for its electric razor production. Stateside, Kiva Systems, acquired by Amazon, automates distribution centers.

Accommodation and food services

Yet another industry that is predicted to see job loss, with fast food chefs faring the best, at 81 percent, and hotel/motel clerks the worst, at 94 percent. Computerization in this sector made news in December, when DineEquity announced it would be rolling out automated ordering systems at 1,800 Applebee’s locations through 2014 and is considering introducing them into IHOPs at a later date. The St. Louis Business Journal reported this week that Panera Bread would be spending $42 million on mobile and kiosk ordering technology.

Administrative and office support

The days of secretaries seem to be ending, as routine tasks such as payroll and reordering office supplies becomes automated. Data entry clerks face a 99 percent likelihood of their profession becoming obsolete in the next 20 years; administrative assistants don’t fare much better, at 96 percent. The technology that is beginning to phase out business support staff is already commonplace, with software put out by Salesforce and Intuit designed to streamline administrative asks.

Professional services

This sector, comprised of accountants, lawyers, and analysts, has mixed risk. Lawyers were the safest, while tax preparers have a 94 percent chance of their profession becoming fully automated. Tax preparers have already seen an increase in their industry’s computerization with the popularity of tax preparation software. SmartAsset, a technology platform that claims to be able to supply personalized answers to life’s 79 most complex financial questions, successfully completed Series A financing earlier this week.

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