Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

What Jobs Will Exist in 30 Years?

Computers are taking over the world. It might take more than 30 years for them to succeed, but not much more. They’re getting faster and more diverse, able to perform tasks once thought impossible. Computer-driven cars will become a reality in the next decade. They can do jobs requiring intense calculations and exertions beyond what mere humans can.

Assembly line workers are already nearly extinct – the same with bank tellers. Stock market traders and hedge fund managers may not be far behind.

Computers are able to make thousands of trades per second. In the near future, hedge fund managers will become unneeded. Computers will be able to better predict where the market is going and make the trades required for much less money. You don’t have to pay a computer a six-figure salary.

Some jobs, you say, are safe. A computer could never become a doctor.

Remember the computer Watson from Jeopardy, which beat two of the best competitors ever to play that game? It’s now being used in lung cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

A plumber, then. A computer could never become a plumber. As far as I know, no one has created a computer to do a plumber’s job. But that’s not because it’s not possible; it’s only due to the fact that there’s been no demand for such an invention yet.

Salespeople? You can’t replace salespeople. You can’t get that personal touch from a computer. Take that!

Again, we’re getting closer. Already there are computers designed to appear lovable and to please us. They have no ego to get in the way; their only mission is to make us happy. They’re not perfect at it yet, but they’re getting better. Another decade or two at the most and they’ll be as convincing, as empathetic, as soothing as the best salesman.

What about artists and poets and singers? Complex computers already write poetry and music and stories (maybe not great creations, but quickly improving ones), and they can perform in perfect pitch.

Computer programmers and designers then – surely we’ll be needed for those jobs. To a point, yes. But computers will soon be able to design better computers than we can, and program them more accurately and efficiently.

Nearly every job that is now performed by a person will be capable of being performed by a computer in the next 30 years. What does this mean for humans? Are we becoming obsolete?

Some speculate that our days are numbered, that computers will rise up and take over the world, like in the Terminator movies. That is certainly one possibility, though it seems rather far-fetched.

A more likely scenario is that as the cost of computers goes down, it will become more cost-effective to use computers to do the tasks people do now. Computers don’t get tired or lose their focus or bitch about their home lives to their co-workers because they don’t have home lives. They can work 24/7/365, taking only the occasional break to have their systems checked or their parts maintained/replaced.

They don’t need to be perfect; they only need to be better and cheaper than humans.

If computers are so good at what we do, if they can outperform us in any job, what’s left for us?

Not much. We’re going to become the assistants in the future. We’ll become the assets that computers use to perform their jobs. We’ll monitor them to ensure they’re working properly, as a check against internal error or outside hacking, but we will become mostly extraneous.

People are going to have to learn to be devalued. Many of us won’t be able to find jobs. We’ll starve and turn to crime and be apprehended by computers that have taken over the jobs of police officers because they’ll be less likely to accidentally shoot suspects or make poor decisions about what to do in a stressful situation.

Our relative worthlessness will lead to a mass ennui, a realization that we are not the gods we thought we were. We were the rulers of this planet for a time, but we created a new race and set them free and they overtook us, not through malice, but through greater efficiency. Our desire to become rich will prompt these new inventions, but they will only lead to long-term ruin.

They’ll be unstoppable because we’ll make them that way.

I wish the news were better. I wish we wouldn’t sprint unchecked into this future of diminished importance. But unless we decide to legislate against the use of computers, unless we decide to bar computers from certain jobs (like the longshoremen have managed to do, to a degree, through collective bargaining), we are bound to become secondary creatures in our future world.


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