If a job involves executing a series of rules or a simple series of physical manipulations it is a candidate for automation by increasingly powerful computers. Routine work in the United States is down about 7% since 2001 in spite of a growing population.
What I find interesting: the routine brain work (bank teller, clerk) is down as much as the routine brawn work (machine tool operator, other factory worker).
The drop was very steep going into the 2008 recession. Possibly the drop in demand and profits spurred companies to go implement labor-saving technology that already existed.
What are routine occupations? In the field of economics, these refer to jobs that involve a limited set of tasks. More importantly, those tasks tend to be “rule based,” in that they can be performed by following a well-defined set of instructions, and require minimal discretion.
For example, production occupations are a prime example of routine manual jobs: jobs that are both rule based and emphasize physical (as opposed to cerebral) tasks. As examples, factory workers who operate welding, fitting, and metal press machines fall into this category, as do forklift operators and home appliance repairers. Similarly, office and administrative support occupations are routine cognitive jobs that focus on rule based “brain” (as opposed to “brawn”) tasks. These include secretaries, bookkeeping and filing clerks, mail sorters, and bank tellers.
A growing literature demonstrates a profound implication of technological change on the labor market: many of the routine occupations that were once commonplace have begun to disappear, while others still have become obsolete.11 This is because the tasks involved in these occupations, by their nature, are prime candidates to be performed by new technologies.
The other two groups comprise occupations that focus on non-routine tasks: those that are not especially repetitive or rule-based. This means they might require flexibility (either cerebral or physical), and involve a variety of tasks. They also tend to emphasize greater degrees of human interaction, communication, or discretion. Non-routine cognitive occupations include jobs such as public relations manager, financial analyst, and computer programmer. Non-routine manual occupations include janitor, home health aide, and personal care aide.13
Some of the janitorial work is going to get automated. I expect 10 or 15 years from now robots will do most floor polishing and vacuuming. We can already buy automated floor cleaning devices for home use, though the products have reliability problems. Industrial versions will get much better. Home versions will as well. I'm waiting to see how well the Dyson 360 robotic vacuum works. Have high hopes for it.
Another area I expect to fall to automation: fast food restaurant food prep. It is a really big business with standardized procedures laid down by the big operators. So there are clear tasks to automate. McDonalds restaurants alone have about 841,000 employees just in the United States. Order taking and payment could be automated today. Many restaurant chains are already automating order taking with tablets which customers can use. You can order a pizza online and walk in and pick it up 20 minutes later.
The tech will of course mature, get faster, get cheaper, get better at preparing and cleaning up. This will change personal relationships. Why marry a good cook when you can buy one?
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2015 April 26 09:58 AM|