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.

Soviet report detailing lunar rover Lunokhod-2 released for first time

Russian space agency Roskosmos has released an unprecedented scientific report into the lunar rover Lunokhod-2 for the first time, revealing previously unknown details about the rover and how it was controlled back on Earth.

The report, written entirely in Russian, was originally penned in 1973 following the Lunokhod-2 mission, which was embarked upon in January of the same year. It had remained accessible to only a handful of experts at the space agency prior to its release today, to mark the 45th anniversary of the mission.

Bearing the names of some 55 engineers and scientists, the report details the systems that were used to both remotely control the lunar rover from a base on Earth, and capture images and data about the Moon’s surface and Lunokhod-2’s place on it. This information, and in particularly the carefully documented issues and solutions that the report carries, went on to be used in many later unmanned missions to other parts of the solar system.

As a result, it provides a unique insight into this era of space exploration and the technical challenges that scientists faced, such as the low-frame television system that functioned as the ‘eyes’ of the Earth-based rover operators.

A NASA depiction of the Lunokhod mission. Above: an image of the rover, courtesy of NASA, overlaid onto a panorama of the Moon taken by Lunokhod-2, courtesy of Ruslan Kasmin.

One detail that main be of particular interest to space enthusiasts and experts is the operation of a unique system called Seismas, which was tested for the first time in the world during the mission.

Designed to determine the precise location of the rover at any given time, the system involved transmitting information over lasers from ground-based telescopes, which was received by a photodetector onboard the lunar rover. When the laser was detected, this triggered the emission of a radio signal back to the Earth, which provided the rover’s coordinates.

Other details, while technical, also give some insight into the culture of the mission, such as the careful work to eliminate issues in the long-range radio communication system. One issue, for example, was worked on with such thoroughness that it resulted in one of the devices using more resources than it was allocated, a problem that was outlined in the report.

The document also provides insight into on-Earth technological capabilities of the time. While it is mostly typed, certain mathematical symbols have had to be written in by hand, and the report also features a number of diagrams and graphs that have been painstakingly hand-drawn.

A hand-drawn graph from the report, showing temperature changes during one of the monitoring sessions during the mission

Lunokhod-2 was the second of two unmanned lunar rovers to be landed on the Moon by the Soviet Union within the Lunokhod programme, having been delivered via a soft landing by the unmanned Luna 21 spacecraft in January 1973.

In operation between January and June of that year, the robot covered a distance of 39km, meaning it still holds the lunar distance record to this day.

One of only four rovers to be deployed on the lunar surface, Lunokhod-2 was the last rover to visit the Moon until December 2013, when Chinese lunar rover Yutu made its maiden visit.

Robot takes first steps towards building artificial lifeforms

A robot equipped with sophisticated AI has successfully simulated the creation of artificial lifeforms, in a key first step towards the eventual goal of creating true artificial life.

The robot, which was developed by scientists at the University of Glasgow, was able to model the creation of artificial lifeforms using unstable oil-in-water droplets. These droplets effectively played the role of living cells, demonstrating the potential of future research to develop living cells based on building blocks that cannot be found in nature.

Significantly, the robot also successfully predicted their properties before they were created, even though this could not be achieved using conventional physical models.

The robot, which was designed by Glasgow University’s Regius Chair of Chemistry, Professor Lee Cronin, is driven by machine learning and the principles of evolution.

It has been developed to autonomously create oil-in-water droplets with a host of different chemical makeups and then use image recognition to assess their behaviour.

Using this information, the robot was able to engineer droplets to have different properties­. Those which were found to be desirable could then be recreated at any time, using a specific digital code.

“This work is exciting as it shows that we are able to use machine learning and a novel robotic platform to understand the system in ways that cannot be done using conventional laboratory methods, including the discovery of ‘swarm’ like group behaviour of the droplets, akin to flocking birds,” said Cronin.

“Achieving lifelike behaviours such as this are important in our mission to make new lifeforms, and these droplets may be considered ‘protocells’ – simplified models of living cells.”

One of the oil droplets created by the robot

The research, which is published today in the journal PNAS, is one of several research projects being undertaken by Cronin and his team within the field of artificial lifeforms.

While the overarching goal is moving towards the creation of lifeforms using new and unprecedented building blocks, the research may also have more immediate potential applications.

The team believes that their work could also have applications in several practical areas, including the development of new methods for drug delivery or even innovative materials with functional properties.