Which jobs will be safe from artificial intelligence and automation?
July 12, 2018 3:32 AM   Subscribe

I am thinking of pursuing training in something but am concerned that whatever skills I learn will be rendered obsolete in the future by A.I. and automation.

I used to be a professional translator and considered formal translator/interpreter training in the past but I am thinking that I might be replaced by machine translation in the future?

I am a liberal arts grad and not technically inclined so I don't think taking up coding as people like to suggest is an option. For someone who is terrible with maths and tech, what could I go for?

I am thinking nursing will be safe because you still need humans to bathe patients and perform certain procedures but I don't think I have the stomach for something like that.

My friend is a professional counselor and I think her job is safe and unlikely to be replaced by a robot counselor since robots can't understand human emotions, social relationships and ethical dilemmas. What other jobs will be safe?
posted by whitelotus to Technology (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Kindergarten / other work with very young kids might be less stomach-unsettling than nursing (ymmv) and it's hard to picture a robot changing nappies or reading stories in a suitable way.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 3:52 AM on July 12, 2018

Best answer: I work for a major consulting firm and oversaw a study we did on this topic last year. Without getting into specific jobs (although we did produce lists), you should essentially look for jobs where you have to do two things simultaneously: Apply judgment, and interact with other people. Those positions have the lowest percentage of individual job tasks that can be easily automated.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:35 AM on July 12, 2018 [25 favorites]

There's a lot of hype around AI at the moment but there hasn't been any breakthrough in computers gaining powers of understanding of abstract reasoning. So it'll only be rote, formulaic jobs that are replaced for a long time. So look to do something that involves complex decision making, problem solving or creativity. For the translation, I don't think novels will be machine translated at all soon as the nuance and beauty of original language would be lost.
posted by JonB at 4:40 AM on July 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

If I had a liberal arts degree today, I would go to a trade school for welding, electrical work for housing, plumbing, or HVAC. All are extremely high-paying, honest work in high demand.

So many of my business jobs are pulling levers for big, automated corporations, with so much out of my control. Being a welder is pretty cut and dry: People need two pieces of metal to be one piece of metal in a hard to reach spot. They call you. Done.
posted by bbqturtle at 4:53 AM on July 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

Massage/physical therapist
Special education teacher
Speech pathologist
Personal chef
posted by overeducated_alligator at 5:31 AM on July 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think with your skillset, interpreting in a court room environment is safe for your life span. First, the stakes (someone’s freedom, for example) are very high and technology is not adopted readily if it is going to inject uncertainty into the process, like whether the AI could be trusted to be consistently reliable (to the degree that it is scientifically validated) to create an official court record. Second, the legal system doesn’t like expensive solutions in the courtroom when humans are cheaper. Third, even if one jurisdiction someday does adopt some sort of on-the-fly, 99.99% reliable and accurate AI interpretation system, you would just work in the next smaller town or county that can’t afford that expensive system.
Interpretation also requires judgment regarding context, sarcasm, colloquilaisms, etc. and interaction with people as mentioned above in a different response. So, if you already know a language, take the training to get certified as an official court interpreter.
posted by DB Cooper at 7:07 AM on July 12, 2018 [6 favorites]

I would widen the horizons a bit from DB Cooper's comment. The legal profession as a whole is highly resistant to automation since one of the big reasons we need a legal profession is attention to the human details. While the whole law school-to-lawyer thing is fraught at this time, I think that the "helper" roles like translators, para-legals, subject matter experts, etc are not at great risk from automation.

Even though "search" is moving to meaning "search via the internet" in many contexts, there is still of lot of information that is not, and perhaps never will be, computer searchable. Or, like old census records, they may be computer retrievable but not really computer readable. This would include, for example, land records in most jurisdictions.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:50 AM on July 12, 2018

I'm a translator. The lower layers of more routine work may be at risk from automation, but there is good demand for the types of translation that need highly skilled human input - either artistic or technical. So if you invest in your skills, join a professional association and make sure you have solid specialisms, I think translation is still viable.
posted by altolinguistic at 8:47 AM on July 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

Nursing pays well, is sometimes unionized, has crummy hours.
Teaching pays adequately, often has a union, has pretty good hours, often has a great retirement plan.
Many counseling jobs pay poorly, seldom have a union, have okay hours.

Do you like translating? I'd keep doing it if you do and get certified. Language skills are extremely valuable in many areas. I suspect language skills are a good preparation for coding. The programmers I know aren't necessarily super-technical; they spend more time understanding how a program works, what tools are available in a given programming environment, how to read the programming language's documentation to understand what it does.
posted by theora55 at 9:57 AM on July 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

To follow up on the translation answers, instructors of ESL (English as a Second Language) and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) will never not be necessary.
posted by JohnFromGR at 10:06 AM on July 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Under the nursing umbrella, venipuncture doesn't lend itself to automation. There are phlebotomy training programs and certifications.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:34 AM on July 12, 2018

Hairdresser. It will be a long time before they find a computer that can cut and colour hair.
posted by Morpeth at 12:03 PM on July 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Elaborating on DB Cooper's comment, real-time or live translations, particularly of multi-lingual, technical meetings, is complicated. I've seen translators who work seamlessly bi-directionally, appearing to filter the spoken language with little to no delay, and they are amazing. While software could potentially do this at some future point, technical language and jargon can be complicated, and complicated discussions require accuracy, not "close enough" when governments are communicating. And I imagine the same could be said about translating public and legal documents, where "close enough" may result in hilarious, and contract-breaking, errors that the agencies or companies would prefer to avoid.

In other words, people will still be used in critical translations.

Similar but different, planning and design professions will continue to require humans. This covers everything from event planning to land use planning, and all types of architecture and engineering, where software tools are helpful, but still just tools used by educated professionals.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:25 PM on July 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Echoing bbqturtle, any sort of trade where you have to go into messy and sensitive human environments and solve problems (eg fix a broken toilet or rewire an old house without wrecking it) will be both extremely satisying (a la Shopclass as Soulcraft, a good book) and extremely safe from automation. And relatively non-technical, in the bits and maths sense of the word.

I happen to have gone back to school for CAD after getting a liberal arts and sciences degree, and now program CNC machines in a steel fabrication facility. As such I'm actively involved in automating people out of work. At the moment there is ample-to-the-point-of-desperate need for skilled welders to stick pieces of metal together, but this seems to be almost entirely a factor of high overhead costs for robotic welding facilities rather than a technical hurdle.

But what robot welders can't yet do (and probably won't for some time, judging from the DARPA Grand Challenge) is scamper up a ladder or wriggle under a broken tractor and weld two pieces of metal together, all the while being considerate of where the sparks fly.

And I think that, by analogy, of the sort of work that is most safe from automation in most industries, manual, knowledge, or otherwise...
posted by lordcorvid at 6:37 PM on July 12, 2018

Response by poster: More info: I am too squeamish for young children/nursing and am a small female with tofu arms so I don't think plumbing/welding etc is it either.

The translation I used to do was business translation, either business contracts/reports/letters or product information. I would love to translate novels but have no clue how to make myself known to publishers. As for legal certification translator/interpreter training, it doesn't seem to be available where I am (I live in Asia and am interested in translating from Asian language to English). I am still thinking if I should go for the non-legal translator/interpreter training (it is a diploma program that costs thousands of dollars, lasts a year, includes university training overseas and thus is a heavy commitment).

I am interested in art therapy but I think it may be difficult to be employed full-time by an organization. The other issue is that the required training may be too expensive or take too long. It would be easier if I already had a fine arts degree to build on but I don't.
posted by whitelotus at 7:52 PM on July 12, 2018

My friend is a professional counselor and I think her job is safe and unlikely to be replaced by a robot counselor since robots can't understand human emotions, social relationships and ethical dilemmas.

Nothing is safe!

But seriously, I think something that is purely communication-based (spoken, and especially written) is at risk.

Something that is skilled physical labor has probably already been automated to a fairly high degree: I walk past a construction site daily and the amount of skilled human labor involved is still extremely high (and extremely unlikely to be replaced by robots in a ~10 year time horizon). The workers use lots of mechanical assistance on various scales (ranging from hand tools to enormous tower cranes) but not much of it seems susceptible to AI/automation in the near term.

So what does this point to for you? Perhaps something with a skilled physical component combined with a human emotional labor component. This suggests something in the realm of body work, personal training, medicine, etc.
posted by theorique at 8:33 AM on July 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

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