Jobs? What to plan for in burgeoning tech age

There can be no doubt that everything is changing so fast, that technology is rampant and, with AI, bound to advance at a continuing pace, that today’s youth may be currently instructed in redundant and obsolete trades and disciplines. So, what can we count on for the next 40 or more years? Where are the guaranteed jobs going to be? Let’s try and think, as Edward de Bono said, laterally — avoid the easy and the cliché (like medical field or service industries). Why? Because even those are being automated and engineered to be profitable using machines. Let’s look at just a few trades and industries that cannot fit the technology profile of redundancy for humans.

Archeology. If we know where we’ve come from, it helps define who we are. If we know who we are, we can better plan for our future. It’s as simple as that. All around the world, in museum basements, are thousands of crates of artifacts: mis-labelled, mis-identified, mis-attributed. In the Volkerkund Museum in Berlin I spotted Maasai 1860’s samples identified as “holz” for wood when I knew them to be carved rhino horn. I was doubted. They got out a microscope and changed the labels a day later. In the Smithsonian they have a 600-year old razor clam shell “handles for flint knives” that, when opened, had iron rust inside. Iron Age American Indians... changes one’s perspective of who we are in one small discovery. On the shore of Lake Michigan they found a settlement with flint-knapping shards. Date? 25,000 years ago. Pushing humans here back 7,000 years. And then they found that the type of flint-knapping was Solutrean in origin... the Solutrean are Ice Age people from France. Again, one discovery and we can redefine who we are. Can a robot or AI replace the human ability here? First it is unlikely, financially, to make such a machine for no capitalistic purpose and second the tasks of discovery, examination, collection, study are too complex for machines alone. Second, humans are needed to study and evaluate humans’ past and illuminate the way forward.

Space Exploration. The need to go, to explore, is to further human activity, habitat, and human possibility. A machine, robot, on a planet in space can take measurements designed to fulfill human need for information, but the design of that machine must have human input to return a human benefit. The evaluation of the significance of any finding, as it bears on human needs and desires, can only be evaluated by humans for humans. If we know what we find, if we can determine if it meets human need, then only human advancement can be the beneficiary. It takes humans, at many levels (including robotics and engineering), to expand the human condition and habitat.

Biodiversity. Humans are living creatures. Only by studying all creatures can we determine our symbiosis and mutual need of all creatures. From creatures, even microbes, found at the bottom of the oceans to spiders that float thousands of feet above us in the clouds — all this life on this planet, and any planet we end up exploring — impacts and is relevant to the life on Earth that we humans have evolved from. Take a small example of that mutual-dependency: the bacteria in your stomach are keeping you alive. Without them and their ability to modify their life span and activity to not devour you from the inside out, you could not exist as you are. Human measurement tools can assist in this endeavor, like a DNA analyzer, but to understand the symbiosis and interaction of life around you requires a human desire to understand a human future with and without that biodiversity. That sociological evaluation — and therefore the people doing that study — is and will remain a human task.

Are humans needed for plumbing? Currently yes. But as machines and installations are standardized, they become less unique. After all, many boilers are already plug-and-play, never being repairable, for example. How about nursing and doctors?

Diagnosis is being centralized and automated at Walmart, medications will come from vending machines (like ATMs), long term care will be machine-streamlined with one nurse covering 20-plus patients. Driving? Autopilots in planes and drones? Automated warehouse sorting? All already here and growing fast. 

The lesson is this: It is time to seek those jobs and careers where humans are vital precisely because the end result will and can only be evaluated by a human.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.