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.

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Juno mission: Jupiter’s magnetic field is even weirder than expected

It has long been known that Jupiter has the most intense magnetic field in the solar system, but the first round of results from NASA’s Juno mission has revealed that it is far stronger and more misshapen than scientists predicted.

Announcing the findings of the spacecraft’s first data-collection pass, which saw Juno fly within 2,600 miles (4,200km) of Jupiter on 27th August 2016, NASA mission scientists revealed that the planet far surpassed the expectations of models.

Measuring Jupiter’s magnetosphere using Juno’s magnetometer investigation (MAG) tool, they found that the planet’s magnetic field is even stronger than models predicted, at 7.766 Gaus: 10 times stronger than the strongest fields on Earth.

Furthermore, it is far more irregular in shape, prompting a re-think about how it could be generated.

“Juno is giving us a view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before,” said Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator and magnetic field investigation lead at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“Already we see that the magnetic field looks lumpy: it is stronger in some places and weaker in others.

An enhanced colour view of Jupiter’s south pole. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gabriel Fiset. Featured image courtesy of NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

At present, scientists cannot say for certain why or how Jupiter’s magnetic field is so peculiar, but they do already have a theory: that the field is not generated from the planet’s core, but in a layer closer to its surface.

“This uneven distribution suggests that the field might be generated by dynamo action closer to the surface, above the layer of metallic hydrogen,” said Connerney.

However, with many more flybys planned, the scientists will considerable opportunities to learn more about this phenomenon, and more accurately pinpoint the bizarre magnetic field’s cause.

“Every flyby we execute gets us closer to determining where and how Jupiter’s dynamo works,” added Connerney.

With each flyby, which occurs every 53 days, the scientists are treated to a 6MB haul of newly collected information, which takes around 1.5 days to transfer back to Earth.

“Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

A newly released image of Jupiter’s stormy south pole. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Betsy Asher Hall/Gervasio Robles

An unexpected magnetic field was not the only surprise from the first data haul. The mission also provided a first-look at Jupiter’s poles, which are unexpectedly covered in swirling, densely clustered storms the size of Earth.

“We’re puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is, and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn’t look like the south pole,” said Bolton. “We’re questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we’re going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”

Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR) also threw up some surprises, with some of the planet’s belts appearing to penetrate down to its surface, while others seem to evolve into other structures. It’s a curious phenomenon, and one which the scientists hope to better explore on future flybys.

“On our next flyby on July 11, we will fly directly over one of the most iconic features in the entire solar system – one that every school kid knows – Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Bolton.

“If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it’s Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments.”