Infographics show jobs most likely to be lost to robots

Infographics look at jobs 95% likely to be taken by robots and the working hours that will be lost.

There’s little disagreement about it: Robots and other forms of automation are coming for our jobs. Your job, maybe. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, some 375 million jobs worldwide will vanish by 2030. An Oxford study in 2017 predicted job losses of up to 47% within 50 years. A report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says a startling 1.4 million jobs in the U.S. will be gone in just eight years. After digging through some Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers, researchers at CreditLoan have concluded that some 48 billion hours of work a year in the U.S. will soon be done by robots instead of humans. That’s the equivalent of 300,000 working lifetimes — gone. In a Big Think exclusive, CreditLoan has turned the raw data into infographics that help clarify what we should expect.


What about your job?

The CreditLoan researchers supplemented the BLS numbers with their own survey of 1,001 people. They were asked how likely they thought it was that their own jobs would be lost to automation. 54% thought their job was safe. Sorry. CreditLoan’s estimate was far more alarming: Only 3.1% are likely to survive the transition.


(CreditLoan)

Respondents were more on-target in their assumptions that the more education they had, the more likely it was that they stood a chance of not being replaced by robots.

(CreditLoan)

Work most likely to disappear

The researchers focused on jobs that were 95% or more likely to be replaced by automation, along with the hours lost and their equivalent in working lifetimes. This is not to say these are the only occupations in jeopardy — they’re just the ones whose future looks least promising.

(CreditLoan)

Altogether, the researchers estimate the time people currently spend working in these jobs at 48,553,260,000 hours. Here’s a way to visualize what those numbers mean.

(CreditLoan)

Time to chill or panic?

Not everyone agrees with all the dire predictions. Employment expert Michael Bernick suggests the concern is overblown for three reasons. He says:

  1. Since the 1960s, nearly all warnings about automation and higher unemployment have proved incorrect (though this time could be different).
  2. The workforce system in the United States has succeeded well over the years in adapting to technology and automation, though going forward it will be challenged to increase its response time.
  3. Policy entrepreneurs are rushing forward to advance guaranteed income schemes and other “end of work” schemes; experience suggests we be cautious, very cautious.

Still, World Economic Forum asks, “Will this Fourth Industrial Revolution lead to a jobless future for manufacturing or will the 'traditional' response of education and training allow workers to remain employable?” They suspect, though, that the exponential advances in technology may simply be too swift for human workers to adapt to.

If this is so, Bernick’s last point is worth thinking about. It implies the prospect of a guaranteed universal basic income (UBI). After all, as robotics bring tremendous economic benefits, what will happen to all of the people left out? Societies are already being torn apart by extreme income inequality as it is. Will the underemployed be left to simply starve and die, or supported through enhanced governmental safety nets? Nations are already beginning to take the idea of a UBI more seriously, though the idea has some tricky aspects. Finland is testing a limited form of UBI. The Swiss soundly voted down a UBI referendum in 2016.

Fewer work hours = more play hours?

So let’s imagine for the moment that all of these displaced workers will be okay. With over 43 billion additional hours returned to our personal use, what kind of things could we accomplish? CreditLoan has some thoughts.


(CreditLoan)

Tell you what: You go ahead and build the world’s tallest building; we’ll re-watch The Office. Or maybe we should all just think about what this next industrial revolution will look like, and, if need be, start cultivating a new career. Right now.

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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.