With automation and digital technologies increasingly replacing human effort in several key areas of work, it won't be long before many common jobs performed by humans will entirely cease to exist. Automation, machine-learning, artificial intelligence and bots will soon take over operational roles in many industries. What does the future hold for some common job profiles that are facing a threat from the automation that is creeping up on them?
1. Customer support executives
Tech Alternative: Chatbots
Companies are already experimenting with the idea of using robots programmed with responses to offer product experiences to users, and to answer customer queries. However, to me it seems highly improbable that artificial intelligence can effectively replace the ability of a human to respond contextually to customer queries, feedback etc. Neither can robots be used effectively for cold calling, a sales tactic that companies use BPOs for.
2. Bank assistants
Tech Alternative: Chatbots
With virtual assistants on smart devices transforming the user's service experience, it will not be long before the banking industry will be able to use chatbots to engage users by answering structured queries. Bank customer service agents will thus be replaced by chatbots. However, it remains to be seen if users are willing to trust a digital assistant to handle their financial queries.
Tech Alternative: Voice-based Digital Assistants
This is a trend that has already been seen for several years now. However, the quantum leap in the intelligence of personal digital assistants (PDAs) means that their abilities now go beyond scheduling meetings and sending reminders. From responding to emails to making travel bookings, voice controlled digital assistants on smart devices can now seamlessly switch between personal and professional tasks. This is one of the most intuitive uses of technology and will definitely see further advancement in the coming years.
Tech Alternative: Automated voice dialers and chatbots
Several companies are experimenting with the use of automated voice software and chatbots to replace the functions performed by tele-callers. While, these technologies reduce human effort and cost for the companies, they cannot replace the efficacy of a human interaction in opening up an avenue for sale or closing a sale using their discretion. I feel that these technologies might replace telemarketers to a limited extent, but it remains to be seen if they will ever become a complete replacement.
Tech Alternative: Smartphones and tablets
With digital technology already making deep inroads into publishing and changing the reading habits of users—digital libraries and e-books being a case in point—very soon entire libraries will be available online. I think it is entirely feasible that, in future, Librarians will be replaced by smart devices and robots interfacing digitally to help readers find the books they want.
6. Toll booth operators
Tech Alternative: Digital wallets
With the government launching an e-tolling service called FASTAG at toll plazas across the country, road users will be able to use a reloadable tag to pay their toll charges without stopping as they pass through the toll booth. Thus toll booth operators will be made redundant. I feel that this will happen sooner rather than later as the time and cost savings are significant, and this is in line with the government's emphasis on technology adoption.
Tech Alternative: Driverless cars
With industry majors such as Google and Uber throwing their weight behind the concept of driverless cars, the idea is already being tested and adopted in several countries. The idea also has the benefit of freeing up useful time for those who self-drive, thus helping them to engage in a productive activity while being driven by technology. Since the technology is aimed at eliminating human error while driving, I feel, it has the potential to become the norm around the world.
8. Postal workers
Tech Alternative: Emails and video chats
While the use of email for communication led to a significant reduction in letter-writing, the advent of video chats has added another dimension to both personal and professional communication. With paper mail becoming increasingly rare, the postal worker's job has been made redundant. I feel that it is an obvious choice to adopt technology in this area since it frees up one-to-one communication from the bounds placed on it by the postal system.
9. Newspaper deliverers
Tech Alternative: e-Papers
With news and entertainment content being increasingly consumed online through smartphones and e-readers, newspapers and magazines are being replaced by e-Papers and e-Magazines. With reducing demand for the supply of physical copies of publications, newspaper boys are being made redundant. This fallout of technology adoption, though more of an urban phenomenon right now, will gradually be seen across geographies, and would definitely be a step in the right direction.
10. Referees and umpires in sport
Tech Alternative: Tracking technology
With the advent of technology in sport, such as goal-line tracking in football, and the decision review system in cricket, the role of referees and their margin for error have been reduced. These technologies are capable of identifying errors that can be missed by the human eye, and are therefore useful in ensuring that mistakes by referees and umpires do not have an impact on crucial matches. With technology's ability to ensure a fair result, I feel that this is the right way to go in most sports.
Machines are bound to replace humans and there will be several jobs that will not exist in a few decades as machine learning and artificial intelligence will progress to an extent where they can be viable alternatives to people. But it will be interesting to see if they can ever replace humans in thinking, ideation, and situational awareness.