(This column originally appeared in the Halifax Chronicle Herald on November 19, 2018)
I may have dodged a bullet.
A report by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship – a Canadian think tank established in 2015 to predict, among other things, when the Great Robot Uprising will upend us all – suggests that professional journalists are only 11 per cent likely to be “affected by automation in the next 10 to 20 years.”
By “affected”, of course, it means eliminated, eradicated, annihilated, or otherwise extinguished. That means my peers and I in the scribbling trade still have an 89 per cent chance of surviving the coming artificial-intelligence insurrection with our livelihoods more or less intact.
Not so, sadly, for accounting clerks, technicians and bookkeepers, 98 per cent of whom will be as extinct as the Dodo bird. And consider the impending plight of administrative officers and assistants (96 per cent), or air transport ramp attendants and aircraft assemblers (99 per cent and 88.5 per cent, respectively), or aquaculture and marine harvest workers (87 per cent) and real estate assessors (90 per cent), or fishermen and fisherwomen (83 per cent), or fish processing plant workers (73 per cent) or food and beverage workers (90 per cent) or general farm workers (87 per cent), or, for that matter, actors and comedians (37 per cent).
Here’s who, the Institute says, is in virtually no peril of loosing their jobs to automation: advertising, marketing and public relations managers (2.27 per cent) and lawyers (3.5 per cent).
Yeah, no kidding Sherlock.
All of which is to say I wouldn’t want to be an average worker in a currently mainstream industry located in Anytown, Nova Scotia.
Here’s the skinny on this eastern Canadian province’s major contributors to annual GDP in 2017, in descending order of economic importance, according to one website:
Real estate, rental and leasing (think assessors); public administration (think administrative officers and assistants); health care and social assistance (think, again, administrative officers and assistants); and manufacturing (think aircraft assemblers). Fourteenth on the list is agriculture, forestry and hunting (think marine harvesters, general farm hands and fish processing workers).
Of course, there’s always something called “survivor bias”, which The Economist defined, earlier this year, thusly:
“In South Korea, for example, 30 per cent of jobs are in manufacturing, compared with 22 per cent in Canada. Nonetheless, on average, Korean jobs are harder to automate than Canadian ones are. This may be because Korean employers have found better ways to combine, in the same job, and without reducing productivity, both routine tasks and social and creative ones, which computers or robots cannot do. A gloomier explanation would be (that) the jobs that remain in Korea appear harder to automate only because Korean firms have already handed most of the easily automatable jobs to machines.”
I once believed that if this whole writing thing didn’t work out, I could always sweep floors in a warehouse or greet shoppers at a big-box, discount store. Ah, how naïve of me.
So far, not even Robby the Robot can do what I do. Not yet, at any rate. As I said, I may have dodged a bullet.
Alec Bruce is an author and journalist who lives in Halifax.