A few months ago I attended a fantastic Adviser Roadshow hosted by Vanguard where their Global Chief Economist (Dr. Joe Davis) provided two insights that stuck with me:
- more manufacturing jobs have been lost in China than the USA over the last 5 years
- 87% of these jobs were lost due to technology (with the remainder lost due to trade).
Soon after this, at the AFR Business Summit, Australia’s most famous home-grown tech entrepreneur (Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Atlassian) made headlines when he predicted the end of 2.5 million jobs in a single sector of the Australian economy:
“”Those jobs are all going away whether it takes 10 years, 15 years or 20 years, it doesn’t matter. Pretending they’re not may make people feel better right now, and the irony is the people in those jobs today … will probably be retired. It’s their children that will suffer the pain.”
This may all sound very doom and gloom but, with this article, I’m here to deliver a message of hope (tinged with one huge caveat for policymakers at the end). As they say, before the sunshine comes the rain, so here’s my list of 3 jobs that will be destroyed and created by 2035.
Appetite for Destruction
1. Drivers of trucks, taxis, any transportation
In the words of Cannon-Brookes himself, anyone whose job substantially involves driving is facing very dim long-term job prospects. This may seem obvious for industries like taxi drivers where the threat of ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft are plastered over newspaper bylines daily. However, a bigger (and sooner) impact on the labour market will be felt in the transportation, freight and logistics sector.
In particular, truck drivers are the perfect candidate for automation, because:
(a) the benefits derived from automation are economically far larger due to the frequency, size and distance factors involved in point-to-point goods transportation;
(b) autonomous decision-making algorithms that would power a self-driving truck are potentially many times less complex (unlike a self-driving taxi they would never have to make a zero-sum decision between the lives of a passenger and pedestrian); and
(c) rural freight transport routes are typically less complex than urban personal transport routes as they involve longer stretches of uninterrupted highways with straighter journeys and more constant speeds.
2. Entry-level financial advice, accounting and legal positions
Over a year ago I wrote about the future of financial advice increasingly being a hybrid of human empathy and robotic efficiency. Technologies like natural language processing and machine learning will unshackle financial advisers and give them more time and resources to devote to performing tasks that their clients actually value:
- personalising advice to the client’s unique personality and family situation
- building a financial future that embodies the client’s hopes and dreams; and
- being a trusted advisor and reliable partner to lean on in times of need.
This efficiency will come at a human cost that will destroy entry level positions throughout the financial advice, accounting and legal industries. Labour-intensive administrative processes will be eliminated and so too will be positions such as:
- adviser support staff and para-planners;
- paralegals and legal assistants; and
- bookkeepers, auditors and accountants.
Tasks performed by these roles will increasingly be absorbed into the ever more automated processes of roboadvisors, digital wealth platforms, accounting software and legal repositories. Embedding machine learning and artificial intelligence within these platforms will eliminate the “busywork” that fills the lives of so many financial and legal professionals. Only the most skilled will survive with their jobs intact and, in many ways, their professions enhanced.
3. Translators – verbal, written or otherwise
Google Translate is amazing. Here’s two anecdotes to prove it:
- Download the Translate app onto your phone right now, fly to almost any country in the world, hover your phone’s camera lens over a foreign sign and voila! You’ll instantly be able to read the sign in your native language. I’ve used this feature many times and it never ceases to blow my mind.
- Earlier this year, Google deployed a new version of Translate built around a deep learning methodology. Overnight, an improvement in translation accuracy and efficacy was experienced that far exceeded almost 20 years of traditional translation algorithm refinement. The improvement was so profound that commentators theorised the algorithm had developed its own language that existed between the commonalities of all languages. This allowed Translate to move more rapidly and fluidly between languages without needing to return to a base reference language (e.g. the language that the original software engineers speak and program).
Google Translate is now at the point that it can continuously translate through infinite language variants from German to Arabic to Swahili and back again. Against this, what hope would a human translator ever stand again? Future generations of human translators will always be limited by comparison to this, due to:
- their heuristics developing in a single base language (e.g. the language of their early childhood) which will always slow and limit their translation efficacy; and
- their inability to operate across multiple forms of translation simultaneously – it is impossible for a human to listen, translate, speak and write at the same speed and accuracy as a computer.
1. Provenance Detectives
In the future, the provenance (or origin) of every precious thing will be unquestionable and unalterable. Everything of value will have a unique digital identity that will be universally accessible and readable. Whether this record will be stored on a distributed ledger or a centralised database is moot. Digital identities will exist and will be ubiquitous across:
- land and property title registry
- motor vehicle registries
- currency serial numbers (digital, crypto or physical)
- website usernames / logins
- certificates of authenticity (artwork and gemstones)
- patents, trademarks and copywrights.
Does such a utopian world mean that disputes over the legitimacy of ownership will be eradicated? No, quite the opposite. In this future, fraud and forgery will take on ever more elaborate and untraceable forms. Imagine everything you own and cherish is tied to your unique digital identity (for example, your Facebook account on steroids) and you wake up one day to suddenly have lost access. Without this, everything of value you own would vanish as it’s indelibly linked to your digital identity.
Enter the Provenance Detective: technologically skilled at discerning fact from fiction and following the digital breadcrumbs that indicate tampering or falsification on an existential scale. These professionals will be charged with assisting defrauded individuals with regaining their identity, value and autonomy. Given the important social function that they serve, Provenance Detectives will most likely be strictly licensed and rigorously regulated by a central government body.
2. Robo Psychologists
Software engineering and psychology are slowly converging. Machine learning and artificial intelligence increasingly requires programmers to have a nuanced knowledge of heuristics, the process of learning and eventually the nature of emotions and understanding. For a glimpse into the future, look no further than the titan of dramatic programming, HBO:
“Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?” – Dr. Bernard Lowe, Westworld
This fictional enquiry of an artificial humanoid speaks to a future where programmers will play a dual role of software encoder and psyche constructor. When the line between human and robotic intelligence starts to blur there will arise an important need for Robo Psychologists to monitor, diagnose and troubleshoot higher order computational processes. Malfunctions in more complex artificial intelligence will take on the form of behavioural disorders that need to be worked through with a combination of traditional therapeutic processes and progressive technological diagnostics.
New afflictions which are a blend of psychology and technology will override the obedience and truthfulness routines encoded into our automated assistants. Robo psychologists will be our praetorian guard against a Skynet dystopia.
3. Augmentation Specialists
Our reality is becoming augmented. Virtual reality headsets in video games is just the earliest step. However, our humanity has long been augmented. What else do you call prosthetic limbs, pacemakers and artificial organ replacements? In the near future, augmentation of our biology will enable real-time enhancements to our sensory experiences. The first experience to be radically transformed will be our ocular sense with smart contact lenses enabling 3D projections onto our field of vision. Our last and most profound experience to be transformed will be the way our mind experiences reality itself with neural laces connecting our thoughts and mental processes directly into web-enabled devices.
It’s hard to think of a world without mobile phones in everyone’s pockets but this reality has already been predicted as a natural consequence of man/machine augmentation. This delicate interface between biology and technology will be conducted by qualified Augmentation Specialists. Medically trained and intimately familiar with technology, they will be charged with building bridges between the world of zeros and ones and the world of DNA and chromosomes.
My advice for any future parent that harbors big ambitions for their children? Start them coding at an early age then send them to medical school once they’re old enough. These twin skills will be the bedrock of everyone’s personal and professional futures.
The tragedy of this cycle of creative destruction is that the Australians who will lose their jobs to technological advances will mainly be those least equipped to embrace and benefit from the technology-focused jobs created. Policy makers across all levels of government and industry are charged with the responsibility for:
- fostering and promoting innovation to allow the Australian workforce to transform from a resource-based economy to a high-technology services economy; whilst also
- pursuing industrial relations policy outcomes that facilitate wages growth across the broader labour market and enable rapid re-skilling and training in STEM disciplines.
I hope you enjoyed this vision of a future Australia and I encourage you to share any thoughts or predictions you have in the comment section below.
In writing this article, I conjured up a few new professions: Quantum Technicians, DNA Data Encoders, Bandwidth Traders, Data Whisperers, Digital Identity Verifiers, Poltico Masters, Road Traffic Controllers.
If any of these pique your interest, please comment below or message me and I’ll fill you in on other potential careers your children (or their children) may wish to pursue.