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.

Scientists reveal the world’s thinnest hologram that emerges from your phone

The day when holograms can pop out of electronic devices like smart phones, computers and TVs has moved a step closer thanks to the creation of the world’s thinnest hologram.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, an Australian-Chinese research team led by professor Min Gu of RMIT University revealed a nano-hologram that is simple to make, can be seen without 3D goggles and is 1000 times thinner than a human hair.

Interactive 3D holograms have been often seen in science fiction and RMIT University’s version would look similar to the hologram that shoots out of R2-D2 as he delivers Princess Leia’s message in Star Wars: Episode IV.

“Conventional computer-generated holograms are too big for electronic devices but our ultrathin hologram overcomes those size barriers,” Gu said.

“From medical diagnostics to education, data storage, defence and cyber security, 3D holography has the potential to transform a range of industries and this research brings that revolution one critical step closer.”

Conventional holograms work by modulating phases of light to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth. But to generate enough phase shifts, those holograms need to be at the thickness of optical wavelengths.

However, The RMIT research team, broke this thickness limit by using a 25 nanometre hologram based on a topological insulator material.

The result is a hologram that is capable of leaping from devices’ screens regardless of their size.

“Integrating holography into everyday electronics would make screen size irrelevant – a pop-up 3D hologram can display a wealth of data that doesn’t neatly fit on a phone or watch,” said Gu.

Images and video courtesy of RMIT University

Next, the research team hopes to shrink the hologram’s pixel sixe as well as making the hologram work on different surfaces.

“The next stage for this research will be developing a rigid thin film that could be laid onto an LCD screen to enable 3D holographic display,” said the paper’s co author Dr Zengyi Yue.

“This involves shrinking our nano-hologram’s pixel size, making it at least 10 times smaller.

“But beyond that, we are looking to create flexible and elastic thin films that could be used on a whole range of surfaces, opening up the horizons of holographic applications.”