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We Asked a Futurist About the Jobs That Don't Exist Yet

Eventually, robots will write articles like this one. Thankfully, there'll be new ways for me to earn a living.
December 3, 2010, 5:10pm
Illustration by Michael Dockery

Illustrations by Michael Dockery

When I rang up futurist Ross Dawson—an Australian guy who basically predicts the future for a living—to ask what the next century of employment holds, I didn't expect him to say that robot writers were already starting to phase me out, and cyborg brain implants might only be ten years away. But he did, and I panicked.

Thankfully Ross assured me things weren't going in a Bladerunner direction, and so long as I'm any good, I'd keep my job. Since he's a nice bloke, he also suggested plenty of alternative careers that don't even exist yet. Potentially, in ten years, I could be living a dream I didn't even know I had.


The future of jobs, in Ross's eyes, is bright and full of robots—less Terminator, and more Tamagotchi. Here's what we talked about.

VICE: Ross, let's get right to the point. Are we going to lose our job to robots in the future?
Ross Dawson: That's a big question. There are many jobs of today that will be replaced by automation. The big question is: Will we be able to create new jobs as fast as we are losing them? Throughout the history of humanity, we've destroyed jobs and we've created new ones. Now, the pace of job destruction is increasing.

What jobs are we losing?
Straightforward mechanical tasks, mainly. We've already lost a lot of blue collar work to automation, though more skilled trades are safe for some while. Now, we're starting to see white-collar middle manager jobs replaced.

OK. I'm a writer, am I safe for the next decade?
There are jobs being lost in journalism, because the shape of journalism is changing. We're seeing the rise of algorithmic journalism. Simple stories in sport and business reporting are being written by automated systems. We will, absolutely, see more of what is currently done by journalists done by machines.

What are some of the new jobs we'll need to create?
There are three domains where humans continue to beat machines: expertise, creativity, and relationships. So, we're going to see more jobs in design, because design is a combination of expertise and an understanding of people and creativity. As we have more and more wonderful machines, we'll need people to design better and better ways to use them. We'll see more jobs focused on user experience, to make sure these machines serve the people who create them.


Let's say my job title is "user experience designer." What am I actually doing?
One job like that would be an emotional interface designer. So you'd design a robot that will respond to us emotionally. We've made a lot of progress in designing systems people will respond to emotionally.

So basically making the movie Her come to life.
Well, yes. It's only a matter of time until we have something which not only has the capabilities of the operating system in Her, but also has a visual representation that is essentially indistinguishable from a real person. It is very feasible; we're already on the verge of systems that are emulating Her. Not to the quality depicted in the movie—for now. But there's a lot of value in those systems, and we need humans to create them.

If that's something we're already working towards, what's a job that doesn't exist yet, but will?
A brain implant surgeon. When the technology is advanced enough, more and more people will choose to have implants in our brains so we can more directly interface our minds with the technology around us. That's an entirely new industry. People will need to create the interfaces, to implant them, and to train people to use the technology. That's another entirely new job: brain interface trainer. Those that are more skilled at using these brain interfaces will be better at their work, so we'll have trainer to help us use the interface.


That sounds very sci-fi.
Not really, people are already using brain interfaces. We've only just begun, but think of the emotive headset for controlling games. That's a brain interface.

So brain interface training will be like the future equivalent of learning to touch type. What's the time frame on this?
Certainly within the next ten years we will get strong emotional engagement with the technology around us. Not just with emotional interfaces, but things like robotic pets. Just the other week, Hasbro released a robotic pet to keep elderly people company. We're going to see significant improvements in the quality of those pets. That's one example of how we'll engage with the technology.

That technology actually sounds really nice.
As a futurist, I believe we need to be very aware of the power and the ethical implications of the technology we have. But certainly, there are many way this technology could be extremely beneficial. Really, the possibilities are limitless.

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