Robots Will Take Over These 5 Jobs Soon — Is One of Them Yours?

By Damian Davila on 11 September 2014 3 comments

Machine laborers are on the rise with a record 14,135 robots ordered from North American robotics companies in the first half of 2014, an increase of 30% in units over the same period in 2013. Why hire robots instead of people? They don't get bored, they make fewer mistakes, and they are cheaper.

In fact, experts predict that several industries will be fully outsourced to robots by 2045. Here are five of the jobs that are likely to disappear in a near future due to robots.

1. Sewing Machine Operator

Take a look at your favorite dress shirt. Somebody had to sew it all together, insert the buttons, and apply all the tiny details. This industry is very close to disappearing in the United States. In fact, since 1997, the industry's employment outlook has been bleak.

In 2012, the numbers of sewing machine operators declined by 42,100 jobs, or 26%. Even a major company, such as American Apparel, was looking only for two sewing machine operators in August 2014. These jobs are less attractive to potential employees because a search on Indeed on August 2014 shows that about 57% of them pay about $20,000 per year.

Don't think a robot could do it better? Watch this robot fold a towel. Companies are enticed to buy robots in this and other industries due to applicable stimulus tax credits. Some recently outsourced jobs are coming back to America, but to done by American robots!

2. Mail Processor

Does your job consist of sorting DVDs and games for Netflix or GameFly? Hopefully not.

At its highest point, Netflix operated 58 distribution centers in the country. That number was down to 39 in 2013. During that same time period, the number of RedBox kiosks has increased to about 35,900 locations in the U.S. This means that close to 68% of the U.S. population is within a 5-minute drive of a Redbox kiosk, which is a tiny mail sorter robot.

But what is more alarming to manual mail processors is the fact that two of the biggest employers of mail processors are replacing humans with robots.

First, the Postal Service is constantly struggling to meet its mandatory annual prepayment of $5.5 billion in health care benefits for future retirees. Most suggested solutions involve either:

  • Reducing the number of delivery days from six to five, which in turn reduces the number of people using USPS, so fewer clerks, mail sorters, and processors would be needed.
     
  • Moving stand-alone post offices into smaller retail spaces, which builds a strong case for centralization and automation of the process.

And the third solution? Robots, such as Baxter, available for about $22,000. In the future it may make sense to replace human mail sorters and processors with robotic ones. After all, hiring new USPS employees also increases pension costs.

Already Amazon uses orange robots from Kiva to dramatically cut costs in its fulfillment and shipping centers. In 2014, the company announced that it has deployed 10,000 robots. A warehouse equipped with Kiva robots can handle up to four times as many orders as a similar one without the orange little helpers. Sorry human, you do not compute.

3. Mail Delivery Carrier

The postal carrier can't catch a break.

Even USPS's 7,559 letter carriers (known as "the Fleet of Feet") have no job security in the future. With Amazon testing its Amazon Prime Air delivery service (a.k.a. "delivery by drone"), we may be not too far away from a future in which we may not need a person to physically deliver a letter or package.

And Amazon is not alone in this. Google X, a division of Google that works on "moonshot" projects, is currently working on Project Wing, which is also aimed at unmanned drone delivery.

Imagine this: You order a product online, Baxter puts together your shipment, Kiva fetches the package, and Betty the Drone delivers your order to your doorstep.

4. Pharmacist Clerk

Since 2011, the UCSF Medical Center has operated a robotic pharmacy. This automated service has prepared and delivered over 350,000 doses of medication without a single error. The assistant director of pharmaceutical services for the UCSF Medical Center claims that the robotic pharmacists not only increase the safety of dispensing medications to patients, but also allow nurses to focus more on patient care.

As UCSF continues to push the envelope in autonomous prescription delivery, it is just a matter of time until private corporations test drive this service to cut down on costs.

5. Cab Driver

As of 2011, Google's fleet of self-driving cars had logged over 190,000 miles. There have been tests in closed courses with humans on board of Google's cars and even on open roads on Hollywood Boulevard and in Santa Monica.

While there are many obstacles to widespread acceptance of the self-driving vehicle, the main one is legal. There is no clear legal framework on how to handle events such as accidents and property damage involving robotic cars. Currently, driverless cars are allowed for public road testing in California, Michigan, Florida, and Nevada.

Still, demand for driverless cars may force things to speed up. Running errands with a robotic driver just looks too cool. Ford expects autonomous vehicles on the market by 2025. Daimler, BMW, General Motors, and Renault are much more bullish and forecast that year to be as early as 2020.

What other jobs do you think won't exist soon due to robots? Please welcome our robotic overlords in comments!

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Guest's picture
Jason Self

The unfortunate reality is that many of our jobs can be replaced in the future with the advancement of artificial intelligence. This isn't always a bad thing as the increase productivity, can help reduce the cost of a product, and increase the demand for higher skilled jobs. That's initially bad news for the assembly line worker that is replace by a robot. However, it results in better cars for consumers and ultimately creates new jobs for the people who create and maintain the robots.

The best way to hedge yourself from the possibility of being replace by a robot is to find a career where human interaction is needed. A doctor could functionally one day be replaced by a robot with artificial intelligence a massive medical knowledge database; however, people are still going to want to interact with a human doctor.

This is already happening in my field as a financial advisor. They call it roboadvisors. It's something that may be good for people with a small investment portfolio. If you have complete financial planning or asset management needs; however, it's going to be difficult to have a roboadvisor give you the appropriate solution. And like the doctor, most people are going to prefer having another human work with them directly.

Damian Davila's picture

Thank you for your input, Jason. I had heard about "roboadvisors" in legal matters, but not in financial ones. It is pretty crazy that futurologists and trend watchers are already predicting that absolutely everything will be possible to outsource by 2040! Do you think that year prediction is plausible or completely far off?

Guest's picture
James

As a letter carrier a drone might be able to deliver the 50 packages a day I deliver from Amazon, although some of them weigh 70 pounds and I don't see drones flying them... but are they going to deliver the 4,000 + letters and magazines sms junk mail to the 700 separate mailboxes on my route?

Damian Davila's picture

Regarding heavy weights, back on April 7, 2016 a drone (a "quadcopter") was able to carry a 125-pound person during a test flight. I think that in the future drones may be able to carry heavier loads than that but only time will tell. Given that USPS depends so much on junk mail revenues, I think that the organization would go with the most accurate delivery method and that is still human letter carrier. I agree with you on that one. Thank you very much for your input!