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Are Robots Coming for Your Job?

Here are five fields that are already turning to them for help

By Sarah Browne | AOL Jobs | September 3, 2014

(This article previously appeared on AOLJobs.com.)

The new generation of robots have something in common. They don't look like The Terminator. They don't act like a weapon. They have friendly faces, cute names, R2D2 beeps, and one (Budgee) even claims to love you.

 
Nevertheless, they're still coming to steal your jobs. Way sooner than you think.
 
A recent Pew study asked 1,186 experts: Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence (AI) applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?
 
The results were fairly evenly divided, with 48 percent envisioning a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced “significant numbers” of blue- and white-collar workers. The rest had faith that while robots will likely displace workers in performing some duties, “human ingenuity” will create new industries, jobs and ways of making a living.

(MORE: The State of the 50+ Job Market)

More Than Manual Jobs 
 
Most of us accept the idea that the machines will take over low-tech labor; all those menial tasks we don't want anyway. Everything that can be automated will be automated. But what about our white-collar, high-skilled, knowledge-based professions? The jobs that need distinctly human qualities such as decision-making or even creativity?
 
AP reporters recently analyzed employment data from 20 countries and interviewed experts, software developers and CEOs. They learned that almost all the jobs that had disappeared in the past four years were not low-skilled, low-paid roles, but rather positions in traditionally middle-class careers. Lost to technology already are the travel agents, bookkeepers, secretaries and administrators.

(MORE: What Older Workers Want)
 
Are you next? Here are five fields already turning to robots for help:
 
1. Lawyers and Paralegals

You may have gone to law school to master the courtroom like the feisty lawyers in The Good Wife or Law and Order But the Jack McCoy and Will Gardner traditional law careers may soon vanish, giving way to an entirely different set of roles. Many will be mash-ups of the law and technology.

One of the innovations already altering the profession is an emerging technology called "predictive coding." This process promises to cut through mounds of data in record time — and importantly, with impressive accuracy.

Attorneys mark up documents with relevant information, feed it into a software program and voila, out comes an analysis for review. A recent study found the software was more effective than human reviewers. Since 90 percent of the world's data has been produced in the past two years, this type of automation may be welcomed by law firms. But perhaps not by paralegals or new graduates.

(MORE: Will There Be a Robot Helper In Your Future?)
 
2. Writers

Say hello to Quill, your technological replacement. It automatically applies language to the most relevant insights and produces a story that's allegedly indistinguishable from a human-written one. Critical features such as grammatical rules, synonyms and spellcheck are automatically combined with formatting and document generation. The result is a ready-to-read report. No word on how Quill feels about the Oxford comma.
 
3. Healthcare Professionals
 
The Robo-Doctor will see you now is no longer a storyline on Grey's Anatomy. While medical robots are still an emerging technology, forces such as health care reform, the growing shortage of doctors and nurses and the skyrocketing costs of hospital care are rapidly triggering advances. Robotic surgery, such as the daVinci surgical robot, continues to achieve better outcomes that radiation or traditional surgery in prostate cancer procedures.
 
4. Musicians
 
A team of engineers in Spain built a computer called Iamus that's able to compose its own beautiful music. Since its album was released in 2012, the music has been performed by some of the world's top orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra. Next year, Iamus and composer Gustavo Diaz Jerez will unveil a new opera.
 
5. Rescue Workers
 
This is one area where the use of robots may be enthusiastically welcomed. Those injured in hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes or terror attacks can be very hard to reach for search and rescue teams. Small robots help because they can wedge into confined spaces or fly above areas that are cut off, allowing rescuers to find those in most urgent need of attention. Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue has already been used in the 911 attacks and during the Fukushima tsunami.
 
Another task where robots should replace us: TRU-D is a portable disease-fighting robot that is about to be used to fight Ebola in Liberia. The machine has special technology that allows hospital staff to easily disinfect virtually any environment.
 
Meet Budgee
 
Before you despair about your jobless future, know that you'll have help during that extra leisure time. Five Element, creator of Budgee Bot, explains in its video: Budgee does the jobs you don't want to do. Budgee does not complain or get angry.

This Sherpa robot has a basket and a motorized platform and will follow you anywhere, carrying your shopping, luggage, and pets behind you. Budgee holds up to 50 pounds of stuff (that's a lot of shoes) and you can close it up into a small five-pound bundle. It can sense bumps and cliffs and has an auto-follow system that will look for and maintain a safe distance from you and your phone.
 
Even better? The company says: “He also loves you. Budgee Bot cares about you and wants to be your friend. Each day he greets you and does his best to cheer you up! His favorite place is to be with YOU!”
 
If Only It Made a Decent Latte
 
And the robot wizards at Willow Garage in Menlo Park, Calif. programmed their mechanical marvel, PR2, to grab drinks from the fridge, play pool and plug itself in for recharging.

Other researchers have taught PR2 to bake cookies, prepare breakfast and even run out for sandwiches.


Sarah Browne is a consumer insights strategist, writer, and expert advisor on trends, innovation and emerging cultural change, especially in the workplace. A serial entrepreneur and specialist in angel investing, she loves to be in-the-trenches, taking seed stage products from concept to commercialization.