US Navy photo by John F. Williams
Over recent weeks I’ve seen a couple of articles about the jobs that it will be most difficult to automate and therefore destroy. I’m a little bit sceptical about these lists. One had primary-school teacher high up the list while, at the same time, we are told that 25% of university classes will be online in just three years’ time. My (thankfully limited) experience of small children suggests that handing them an iPad is the best way to get them to quietly concentrate on something. A soft robot with an imbedded screen that could stop them climbing out of the windows would seem to have many advantages over a primary-school teacher. Yes, I am suggesting that a Teletubby will replace Miss Pritchett in the foreseeable future.
Another list had lawyers and doctors at the top. But surely all medical knowledge and all legal knowledge could be available in an app if not now then very soon. Medicine is just matching symptoms to diseases; the legal profession is just remembering precedents that could be relevant to a specific case. OK, I’m exaggerating a little but both diagnostic medicine and law are memory-based professions and those are precisely the ones most threatened by modern technology.
Really future-proof professions are those that require a bit of creativity, a bit of social skills and a lot of precision motor coordination manipulating non-standardized objects. Over the last fortnight I have seen a state-of-the-art robotic chef (in Korea) and a cutting-edge robotic bartender (at the Google conference in San Francisco). They were both crap. The incredibly slow automaton cook got more food on the floor than in the salad bowl, while the android barman took three minutes to pour a pint of beer. Whatever the experts say, for my money the best future-proof jobs right now are those preparing food and drinks.
One final – more serious – comment about the future of work: the complaisant often say that new jobs always emerge when technology replaces obsolete ones (e.g. when farm machinery replaced agricultural labour). However, this is the same fallacy as dismissing anthropomorphic climate change because the earth’s climate has always changed. The problem isn’t evolution; it’s the speed of the change. If species don’t have time to adapt, then there’s mass extinction. If the labour market doesn’t have time to adapt, there’s mass unemployment. We read that, “65 per cent of primary-school kids will have job types that don’t yet exist.” That’s putting a very positive spin on the fact that two-thirds of today’s jobs won’t exist in 15 years’ time; it may just9 mean that over half the workforce will be out of work.
 a couple of – several
 to automate – replace with a machine
 high up – near the top of
 just – (in this case) only
 to hand – give
 imbedded – that is an integral part of sth.
 screen – the part of a computer or a TV where the images appear
 foreseeable – predictable, near
 just – (in this case) only, simply
 to match A to B – marry A with B, pair up A with B
 disease – illness, sickness
 I’m not referring to surgeons and dentists, whose jobs are very safe
 threatened by – in danger from
 skills – talent, ability
 fortnight – two weeks
 state-of-the-art – ultra-modern, cutting-edge
 cutting-edge – ultra-modern, state-of-the-art
 bartender – barman or barmaid, sb. who serves drinks
 conference – (false friend) convention
 crap – (informal) useless, very inefficient
 cook – chef
 to pour – (in this case) serve
 for my money – in my opinion
 the complaisant – people who accept what they are told without protest
 to dismiss – ignore
 kids – children
 spin – interpretation
 out of work – unemployed