Don’t worry if you’re a psychiatrist, a nail artist or a door-to-door seller of cosmetics. If you’re a tax accountant, on the other hand, or a train driver, or a patent attorney, a degree of uneasiness regarding your future is in order.
Josei Seven (July 5) tells of a 20-year-old student it calls “A-kun.” A tax accountant is precisely what he was studying to be, until over lunch one day a friend said, “It won’t be long, you know, before tax accounting will be handled by artificial intelligence.” This gave A-kun pause. “I was in shock. Was it worthwhile continuing my studies?” He spoke to his parents. “If that’s the case,” said his father, “maybe you’d better start looking for an ordinary job.”
What “ordinary job” even means, with AI and robots set to replace humans in so many fields, is up in the air. A 2015 Oxford University study listed jobs most likely and least likely to vanish within 20 years. Tax accounting and train driving topped the vanishing list, 99.8 percent of each projected to be handled by non-humans. It’s a list that job-seekers and employees alike can be forgiven for thinking includes just about everything the current generation of workers knows how to do. Drivers, supermarket staff, wrappers, bank clerks, school office workers, building superintendents, programmers, hotel staffers, garbage collectors and security guards are among those most at risk. Less so but by no means secure are carpenters, international bureaucrats and ramen chefs.
School teachers, on the other hand, will be pleased to know that, near-term at least, they are more or less irreplaceable, along with bartenders, surgeons, economists, sports instructors, pension fund managers, tour conductors and aroma therapists.
A-kun, Josei Seven finds, is far from alone. “Lately I’m being consulted by many worried students,” the magazine hears from a college job counselor. “They know automation has already come this far, and AI and robotics are evolving very fast. Will their chosen field be affected?”
Nor does actually having a job mean you’re out of danger. “To be honest, I think a robot could do my job,” says a 41-year-old painter.
“My boss tells us, ‘You guys will be out within 10 years,’” says a smart phone game programmer, whose age is not given but who is presumably younger.
Is the painter looking for another job? Is the programmer busy acquiring new, AI-friendly skills? The magazine doesn’t say, but one thing seems unavoidable in the not-very-long-term: skyrocketing unemployment. It’s the cost of progress. It may not be poverty-stricken unemployment, if schemes now being bruited come to fruition – like basic income, under which everyone, working or not, would receive an income sufficient to live on, if not necessarily to enjoy life on. But that won’t solve another problem: What will people do with themselves? Work can be a nuisance, but it does have the merit of keeping us busy. What will take its place?
It is interesting that topping the Oxford study’s list of safe occupations is psychiatry. This means either that the work requires a human touch that no artificially intelligent robot could emulate, or, alternatively, that demand for psychiatric treatment is about to soar. The latter interpretation seems not implausible.© Japan Today