The artificial intelligence revolution is, in the words of Marc Andreeson, “eating the world.” But its first meal doesn’t appear to be the usual group of people – those who work with their hands. Instead, it is gobbling up those with the highest education levels, performing complex cognitive tasks in fractions of a second that would usually take hours, days, or weeks. 

The impact that this is having on the economy is already being felt. Think tanks believe that AI will initially supercharge productivity, giving workers semi-magical tools that will allow them to get their work done faster. 

Over time, this process will accelerate, and the work required of humans will reduce further, with machines doing the lion’s share. People will simply monitor or prompt, rather than actually doing the repetitive tasks themselves. Eventually, though, even that work will go away. Experts predict that AI will become so good that it will automate virtually any cognitive task that people do today. Right now, they see no theoretical reason why it shouldn’t. For those “thinking jobs,” these changes are worrisome. The world of work was a joy for the highly skilled and cognitively gifted in the past. But that time is coming to an end. It’s the people in the trades and physical businesses who will benefit the most near-term. Artificial intelligence on computers is approaching human levels. Few deny it. 

But machines inside robot bodies are still a long way behind. While we have seen progress from companies like Boston Dynamics and Fanuc, the rate is much slower. Robot technology is progressing linearly, while software is booming exponentially. 

What this means is that business will adjust. Companies that presently hire thousands of office staff to conduct administrative tasks will thin their ranks, while independent contractors and firms hiring them will continue to see positions available. 

As such, many people are considering reskilling to make better use of their hands. AI can’t perform complex tasks in the real world just yet, so switching to a new career could be just the ticket. 

What Problems Are There With Manual Automation Today? 

Manual automation probably will happen sooner than people think, just as AI did. But there are significant roadblocks in the way, stopping it from occurring immediately. 

Consequently, people in the trades and manual work probably have longer to run before finding themselves being made redundant. Getting robots right seems harder than mastering cognition. 

For example, there are considerable challenges in automating non-linear tasks that rely on specialist knowledge, experience, and trial-and-error. Machines, for example, can’t walk into an unfamiliar home and immediately begin working on the plumbing. They simply aren’t that smart. 

The complexity of the machinery is also problematic. Evolution spent millions of years fashioning human beings. However, we’ve only had a few decades working on robots, and we’re still not that good at it. Components are getting smaller, but providing machines with a reliable power source is proving challenging, limiting their usefulness in many situations. 

You also have the cost factor, which is a part of all of this discussion about automation. Just because a robot can do a job, doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs will be willing to pay for it to do it. It might just be cheaper to hire a human. 

Take a robot-only restaurant. Robots will likely cost more than the salary of staff to run and maintain, they will be slower, and they will require repairs by humans (not an attractive prospect for company leaders). What’s more, the person with the skills to fix these machines will be costly to hire. Getting help with robot maintenance isn’t cheap. 

Finally, robots lack the human element – something that people will continue to demand, long into the future. Sure, you might be able to talk to ChatGPT and get it to be your therapist, but it can never have the spirit of a person. The qualitative experience won’t be the same, no matter how accurately the system understands the Jungian school of psychoanalysis. 

Which Manual Roles Will Boom In Coming Years? 

For these reasons, multiple manual roles will continue to boom in the coming years. Workers in these sectors may enjoy a steady increase in their standard of living, thanks to growing efficiencies elsewhere in the economy. 

Here are some of the roles we expect to remain: 

Healthcare Aides And Assistants

Healthcare aides and assistants will likely continue to provide services to patients. Robots will play a minimal supportive role if any at all. 

Japan has been trying to create robots that can take care of its aging population for decades but without much luck. It knows it faces a demographic crisis and that it will need nursing staff to take care of its elderly population. 

The country’s main problem is mastering the technology. It’s hard to build a humanoid robot that can walk, let alone provide complex care services. 

However, there is also the issue that people want other people to look after them. There’s something horribly impersonal about using robots. 

Again, the technology will improve, but it will always feel a little ersatz – not quite the real thing. People will demand humans to care for them. 

Legal and regulatory hurdles might also get in the way. Governments may stop robots from taking over the healthcare industry, either because they don’t like the idea, or because existing unions lobby them to prevent the takeover. 

Construction Workers

Construction workers are another role that will likely remain for a long time. These professionals work in unpredictable, chaotic, and dynamic environments where machines struggle to function.

Again, the industry has tried to introduce robots, including those that can fabricate buildings in factories and those that function as bricklayers. But, again, these efforts largely failed. Either the technology is too complex, doesn’t work, or is too costly at the present price point to justify the expense. 

Tradespeople

The same is true of tradespeople. These jobs, as mentioned above, require expert knowledge and a fiddly understanding of situations – and the ability to make novel decisions on the fly. Robots simply can’t compete. 

Going to the store to buy DIY building supplies is something humans can do with ease. But robots would find this task almost impossible unless they got the shop assistants to help them. The same goes for fitting a kitchen or ripping out an old bathroom. Robots are unlikely to know how to operate in a situation where the rules aren’t clearly defined. 

Specialized Manufacturing Workers

Finally, specialized manufacturing workers are unlikely to find themselves out of work. While factories are getting better at automating tasks, they still need people who understand how all their equipment and machinery work. These individuals will provide maintenance and servicing on equipment. 

Will The Impact Of AI Be Positive On Jobs Overall? 

Despite all the doom-mongering around work, experts believe that the effect of AI on jobs will be a net positive over the next five years. In other words, the economy will add more jobs than it will lose. 

The justification for this has to do with the need to first build out these systems. Robots won’t take over work from day one. Instead, they will require companies and individuals to train them. 

It’s not clear how far this process can proceed or whether robots can develop new jobs for themselves. It depends on who controls them and whether they want to continue serving humans. 

Experts also believe that other technologies will drive growth in the labor market. For example, greater productivity will enable the creation of more of the jobs described above. If fewer people are needed in offices, that means that society has more resources for construction workers and tradespeople. 

The only two technologies believed to remove jobs will be humanoid and non-humanoid robots. These technologies will be direct replacements for people in some controlled settings. 

Precisely how the technology will reduce labor depends considerably on the ability of machines to complete tasks successfully. In some cases, the current labor employed in tasks will remain the same. In other cases, it will grow exponentially, and in others decline. 

For instance, when online travel booking services arrived, the travel agent market didn’t grow or shrink – it just stagnated. That process is likely to happen as AI becomes more capable in some industries.

Other industries saw technologies eliminate jobs. For example, most people don’t go to a human teller to take out their cash. Instead, they go to a machine.

But some sectors will grow, probably because of shifting prices elsewhere in the economy. Getting your roof cleaned or HVAC serviced will likely remain costly, but hiring legal teams or getting websites built might be considerably cheaper (or won’t cost anything at all). 

Wrapping Up

So what have we learned? 

AI is shifting the economy and for the first time in a century, people who work with their hands will probably win. It’s the highly educated who are likely to miss out on this revolution the most. That’s a shame, but it also means that new resources will become available, making society wealthier long term