kestrel, walking
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2019-05-22 18:46:55 (UTC)

Prompt 024: Obsolete Jobs

24. As the world changes, some technologies and jobs will become irrelevant. What careers might be obsolete in the future? What jobs might spring up to replace them?


I deal with this kind of thing at my day job, and I think about it frequently.

I train people to do material handling work: warehousing, stocking, picking and packing. Also in this town, there's an enormous Amazon distribution center, as well as the HQ for an athletic apparel company. In both cases, humans are being replaced via automation and robots. Both facilities are considered ASR/Automated Storage & Retrieval Warehouses.

Many humans are being replaced in these jobs. Amazon in particular uses robots in a wide array of their operations, and are even attempting to do robotic drone deliveries guided by GPS. So I anticipate that more and more companies will invest in robotic material handling, at least in warehouse operations. It's reasonable to think that 75% of all work now done by humans in these fields will be automated within a generation.

The same holds true for international shipping terminals: waterfronts, airports, railways, and so on. Essentially, removal of the human element from nearly any job that requires physical labor is likely the goal of a typical management team. There may be a large up-front cost, but the investment will possibly pay for itself in a short time, as the business doesn't need to depend on labor laws, paid time off, health insurance, worker's comp, housing and food (if that's part of the work), or security.

So what will emerge to potentially replace these jobs? Technicians and maintenance of all the machines, of course. That will be for another generation/20 years. It's reasonable to think that, within my lifetime, I will see machines replace most warehouse workers, and then machines will replace the human technicians who maintain those machines.

As I think on the subject of automated/autonomous vehicles, I wonder how long it will take to completely replace freight movers with machines. There are a lot of screw-ups right now in terms of autonomous vehicles, but those are only to be considered temporary setbacks. Uber, Lyft, Google, and yes, Amazon, are all researching and testing self-driving vehicles. Their goal is to move material goods and passengers without needing an employee there to do the vehicle operation.

Given a long enough time frame, all employment becomes obsolete and is replaced. I wonder if there's any kind of job that's immune from this. In science fiction, even healthcare has become automated, again, only maintained by computer technicians. I wonder why it is that we never see the "ace pilot" replaced by an automaton? Who needs Han Solo to do the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs when a computer will be able to do it just as well, but in addition without the need of a cockpit, life support system, food, sanitation, a blaster pistol at their hip, or other humans to impress?

This is all under the assumption that humanity will make it that far along, which I don't take as a given. Personally, I think there will be too many essential resources (water, air, petroleum products, etc.) depleted before complete autonomy - and complete unemployment - is realized.