Is it time you considered new opportunities?
Steve Wozniak of Apple fame was only the most recent tech veteran to voice his concern that automation and artificial intelligence poses a threat to life as we know it.
Of course computers, and machines more generally, have been changing people’s lives since the invention of the most primitive tools, but IT is now reaching a point where it can match mental work and complicated physical activity previously held to be purely the domain of man.
The result is what academics Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson have dubbed the Second Machine Age. But what jobs are about to be taken over by computers?
Last year an earthquake in Los Angeles made headlines: but not for the shake itself. Instead news outlets around the world were amazed that the first report about the earthquake was written not by a journalist but by a piece of software called Quakebot.
Developed by LA Times journalist Ken Schwencke, the software follows similar projects to automate sports and financial journalism, a trend that has hacks everywhere wondering if they will soon be out of a job. Yet Schwencke does not see it that way.
"It saves people a lot of time, and for certain types of stories, it gets the information out there in usually about as good a way as anybody else would," he told Slate, a US current affairs publication. He added that this leaves humans more time to add detail to the story.
Machines have already replaced humans in many factories and agricultural settings, pushing much of the Western world towards a service based economy in comfortable, air-conditioned offices.
However tasks that involve more than constant repetition have proved more of a challenge for machinists, which can include activities as basic as scaling ladders, opening doors and climbing stairs. One firm, Boston Dynamics, is working hard to solve this with its Atlas robot, which can already walk, pick itself up if it falls over, and complete basic physical tasks with its arms.
If this sounds a bit iRobot already, there are also moves to extend such technology to the home, including carers for the elderly. The development of robots like Baxter, which can sense their environment and learn how to complete common chores, makes this future increasingly likely.
Before IBM’s Deep Blue project got going many assumed that chess was too complex for a computer to ever hope to master. Whilst the machine’s ability to calculate potential moves put it ahead of any person, it was felt man would always have the strategic, long-term edge.
Such a theory was put explicitly to the test in two series of matches against world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1996 and 1997. Whilst Kasparov beat Deep Blue in the first series the computer overcame the chess master in the second, becoming the first computer to beat a world champion in history.
Some have since disputed why exactly Kasparov lost, as well as the merits of a computer’s approach against a human’s. Yet few doubt that machine can match man in complex games.
The use of drone warfare has caused huge controversy under the administration of US president Barack Obama, who has made extensive use of the technology as part of his foreign policy.
Drawing uncomfortable comparisons with violent video games, the technology allows people to wage war remotely. As well as raising ethical questions, the project has prompted concerns of the psychological state of those who make war as a day job, returning to their families in the evenings as if it were a regular 9-to-5.
"It’s one thing to go through training and looking at virtual scenarios of helicopter crashes," An airman called Ray who works at the Langley Air Force Base in the US told the Guardian. "But seeing it live from thousands of miles away knowing those are our guys on the ground injured, it’s an indescribable feeling."
Moving items and people from place to place constitutes a sizeable chunk of the economy. Yet the emergence of projects such as Google’s self-driving car is a sure threat to anybody whose livelihood relies on the sector, with the technology already being run in some American cities.
Unlike their fleshy counterparts self-driving cars are unlikely to lose concentration on the road, and will not have to stop for toilet breaks or to go to bed. They are also likely to be cheaper than humans to employ, assuming they can dodge the regulatory scrutiny of the places in which they operate.
It is worth noting that automated vehicles are already common outside the car. Plans for the latest fleet of London Underground trains, unveiled by Transport for London last October, show the vehicles will be manned to begin with, but have been designed to be fully automated.