Damien Grant: Smart technology will put professionals out of work

Who needs a chartered accountant when Xero already has the answer?
Who needs a chartered accountant when Xero already has the answer?

There was no third umpire on duty at the Auckland Nines last weekend. Referees had to make the call on the spot and with 30 games in 16 hours there is no time for mucking about. The decisions made under pressure by those on field may have lacked consistency but they would have made match-fixing impossible.

I wasn't surprised to see that research by Oxford University academics Carl Frey and Michael Osborne puts umpires high on the list of professions susceptible to computerisation.

It is a scary document. Many of us white-collar types have smugly dismissed the luddite angst of blue-collar workers as their industries have been invaded by the relentless advance of innovation. Our time might be up.

Technology has allowed machines to replicate manual tasks but gaining an economic reward for thinking has remained the preserve of humans and border collies. But the rapid advance of software algorithms, ability to aggregate vast amounts of data and sophisticated advances in robotics have changed this.

Computers can now exceed humans in relatively complex cognitive tasks in such diverse fields as legal drafting and matchmaking.

Frey and Osborne used three characteristics of a job to determine the likelihood of it being automated: social intelligence, creativity and perception/manipulation. Jobs that require a high degree of all three, such as choreography, are safe. Those that need none of these three, such as bank tellers, face extinction.

The authors predict that almost half of all jobs in the United States are at high risk of automation, from taxi drivers to restaurant cooks.

For those of us well into our careers, it is too late. We must simply wait, hoping that our bodies give out before artificial intelligence takes over.

Those now filling the lecture theatres may want to consider where they invest their efforts. Careers that require creatively and an intuitive understanding of people are secure.

Jobs in medicine, architecture and human resources are difficult to replicate but most of the accounting profession is doomed. Who needs a chartered accountant when Xero already has the answer?

And on-field referees? If they survive they will be like the weather presenters on breakfast television. Predominantly ornamental.

- Herald on Sunday

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