Episode: What to Do When Robots Replace People You Work With

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What to Do When Robots Replace People You Work With

What are you willing to automate in your life? How much robot will you accept? 

This week, Manoush goes on a journey to find out what she's willing to automate in her life, what the right ratio of robot to human is. This, it turns out, is a personal choice. 

Maybe you'll book travel online instead of through a travel agent, but you still use a human accountant. Last week, when New Tech City adopted the new robo-friend Amy (http://x.ai) as our personal assistant we had to face facts: our efficiency came at a cost. Not just to the people replaced by automation, but to the beneficiaries too. Actual hands have sewed fabrics; living, breathing office-dwellers prepared taxes; physical human muscles carried cargo, and real people have picked up phones to make real-life telemarketing calls.

And all of those humans bring a human softness to those tasks that is worth something.

But according to a study from Oxford University, close to half of the U.S. workforce is under threat of losing their job to technology in one form or another. The research team ranked 702 jobs from most likely to least likely to be automated, and telemarketers topped their list, just barely beating out title examiners, sewers, and mathematical technicians. Their big conclusion: Amy isn’t the only job-eating robot waiting in the wings.

The travel agency near Manoush Zomorodi's house.
The quaint travel agency near Manoush Zomorodi's house.
(Manoush Zomorodi)

So has the moment come to pity the poor telemarketer? Is automation inevitable? Is their loss everyone else's gain?

Nick Carr, author of "The Glass Cage: Automation and Us," says "not always." On this week’s episode, we talk with Carr (and another special, live, human guest*) about using technology without stopping to consider why—when the process of automation becomes, perhaps, a little too automatic. 

*OK, so this isn't actually Manoush's personal trainer but you can hear him on the show, “You can’t replicate the having-the-person-in-front-of-you-watching-everything-you’re-doing factor. You can’t replicate that on a phone," Nick Vargas tells Manoush. 

Here's the top of Oxford's list of jobs most likely to be automated: 

  1. Telemarketers.
  2. Title examiners, abstractors, and searchers.
  3. Sewers, hand.
  4. Mathematical technicians.
  5. Insurance underwriters.
  6. Watch repairers.
  7. Cargo and freight agents.
  8. Tax preparers.
  9. Photographic process workers and processing machine operators.
  10. New accounts clerks.
  11. Library technicians.
  12. Data entry keyers.

Next week on the podcast, we're going to delve into the world of racist or race-baiting posts on your social media accounts, where things have gotten pretty tense in recent weeks. We’ll get advice from experts on where race dialogue fits into Facebook. In the meantime, we want to know: How do you deal with those posts that just totally offend you on your feed? Email us at newtechcity@wnyc.org and we might put you on next week's show. 

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or on Stitcher, TuneIn, I Heart Radio, or anywhere else using our RSS feed. And follow us on Twitter @NewTechCity.

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