All posts by Callum Tyndall

Six of the top occupations already declining due to automation

Automation, in all its varied forms from simple robotics to more advanced machine learning and even artificial intelligence, is going to be the future of vast swathes of industries.  

And while we may expect to see this change on assembly lines, it may come as a surprise the extent to which automation has already begun to cause a decline in many other occupations’ vacancies.

Below, we explore some of the top roles affected in the UK by technology’s change towards automation as per Adzuna’s Start of the Curve report.

Pharmacy Assistant

Automation’s influence on the job market isn’t always going to be as obvious as a robot in place of a person. In the case of roles such as pharmacy assistants, who’ve experienced an average monthly decline of 4.5 vacancies in the last two years, the change is most likely to come about as the result of pure software.

Robotics may play a lesser role, but occupations such as this, typically combining administrative work with customer service, are more likely to fall victim to the cost-cutting efficiency of programs that can handle the administrative role automatically.

Illustrator

Illustrators, though working in a creative field that may lead you to assume them irreplaceable my automated processes, are in a similar position to the pharmacy assistants. Though the creative nature may allow a certain amount of leeway and the top talent will likely maintain a level of demand, the occupation as a whole has seen a 4.36 average decline.

In part this is due to software getting smarter, essentially democratising the industry to lower the bar of entry. A combination of low-cost software and huge image databases are making it incredibly easy to create 2D images with relatively little skill and experience, while even the usually complex 3D is becoming steadily less laborious. Frame-by-frame lighting and shadow calculations that would have consumed the time of an illustrator can now be performed with relative ease by software.

Integrated circuit / application-specific integrated circuit (IC/ASIC) design engineer

In no small part, the almost surprising level of automation intrusion into industry is a result of the ever increasing speed at which technology advances. In the past, we may have said that for software to design an integrated circuit it would require full-fledged artificial intelligence.

And yet, these days, such a feat would be considered fairly normal in the realms of software capability. As observed in Adzuna’s report, this is something called the AI effect. “Douglas Hofstadter, an American professor of cognitive science, concisely expresses the AI effect by quoting Tesler’s Theorem: “AI is whatever hasn’t been done yet.””

Translator

There are cases, however, where the automation of roles is occurring more as the result of true AI. When a normal person wants a translation of a foreign language, they do not seek out a translator, they go to Google translate. The most well-known and, quite possibly, accurate translation software in the world, it also has the advantage of being free.

Having announced in November that the software has been upgraded with machine-learning capabilities designed to provide near-human levels of accuracy, Google is getting ever closer to the ideal of a universal translator that you can carry in your pocket. In just a few years, human translators may function only for truly specialist tasks or be irrelevant entirely.

Writer

The pure creativity of a human writer is not yet facing real challenge. For the foreseeable future at least, your bestsellers will still be brought to you by Stephen King and not IBM’s Watson. However, outside of the realms of fiction, automated writers are already making a significant impact.

The Associated Press already uses software to write corporate earnings reports and Yahoo uses similar technology to create fantasy sports reports for its users. Though novels may not yet be in their wheelhouse, such software has proven adept at building factual narratives from structured data sources.

IT support analyst

It is perhaps ironic that soon we will exclusively have technology tell us how to fix other technology. Although other factors are eating into the need for IT support, notably a working demographic that is increasingly comfortable with technology, and a rise in the popularity of people making use of their own devices at work, the principle change that is likely to see automation take over is the development of sophisticated customer support chatbots.

Although human support staff will likely continue in some form, given many peoples’ preference for talking to an actual person rather than a machine, it would be unsurprising if chatbots became the predominant form of first-line support.

First floating city set to advance the development of drone taxis: Hoverbike director

A talk at The First Tahitian Seasteading Gathering yesterday has opened up the possibility of seasteadings – small floating cities – as a proving ground for people-carrying drones. With the first floating ‘island’ units having undergone early-stage testing for a seasteading off French Polynesia, the work currently being done could act as fuel for a variety of experimental technologies.

The talk was given by Oriol Badia Rafart, director of business development at Malloy Aeronautics. Building on Malloy’s work with the Hoverbike, Rafart described the development of “the uber of the skies, the airline of daily objects”. At the basic level, Rafart believes that floating cities will act as an accelerant for the development of drones in our daily lives.

The development of drones for wider commercial use is not a unique idea; Airbus for example is working on the development of various drone-based forms of public transportation. In concept, by making use of the skies we ease road congestion and, in no small part due to the automation, can potentially come up with more efficient modes of transport.

Rafart, however, focuses on the belief that the development of seasteadings will provide a fertile ground for scientific development. Moreover, it is the kind of development that will be vastly accelerated by the purpose and environment of a seasteading.

A proposed design for the French Polynesia-based floating city. Image and featured image courtesy of The Seasteading Institute

He suggests that the kind of machinery Malloy is developing is perfectly suited to the philosophy of the Seasteading Institute.

“The Seasteading Institute wants to create an ecosystem in which progress can happen: social progress, political progress and scientific progress,” he said. “We at Malloy Aeronautics believe we have to put technology and machines to work for those individuals there so they can focus only on such purpose.”

Of course, what makes the Seasteading Institute’s work of real value to people like Malloy is regulation. Free of traditional government, and established with the purpose of progress, seasteadings are ideal environments in which to test and develop technologies that would otherwise become quickly entangled in regulatory red tape.

A hoverbike developed by Malloy Aeronautics. Image courtesy of Malloy Aeronautics

It is of course understandable why regulations are in place over autonomous drones. If something goes wrong, no one wants a hoverbike plummeting from the sky above a busy street. That said, though, as laid out by Rafart, the current state of regulations poses large problems to making any actual progress in the field.

“Regulations that don’t allow any vehicle to fly without a pilot, to fly out of the line of sight and beyond the line of sight of a pilot, to fly to and from platforms that are not fixed in the ground, and they classify these vehicles and drones by their weight instead of by their use and their safety,” he said. “So, in sum, regulations that don’t understand what they are regulating.”

This sounds all well and good: the establishment of seasteadings as bastions of scientific progress that, free of regulation, allow researchers and companies to make quantum leaps in development. However, I’m just going to note that this whole thing is a little creepily reminiscent of Bioshock. Of course I want to ride a hoverbike. But the memories of an ocean-based society devoted purely to scientific progress with no limitation are a little too real.