Writers: are we safe from the robot invasion?

Writers and authors; great news.

If and when our fridges start talking to our mobile phones, and plotting world domination with our garage door remotes, we can be assured of one thing – we’re not so easily replaced.

That’s right. A little procrastination device post appeared online this week with a cute widget that showed how easy it would be to automate each profession. It’s not hypothetical either – we’re seeing it happen on a small scale already. (Remember those people who used to work in video stores? Now a box outside Woolies does their job.)

The post appeared on NPR’s Planet Money blog, asking the question “Will your job be done by a machine?” It’s not a rhetorical question either; not just the sort of nervous water cooler conversation you have when Jeni from HR is busy summoning people to her office at 10-minute intervals. No, this is definitely more science than fiction, and NPR’s researchers actually investigated dozens of professions across nine traits.

Four of these metrics were deemed the most relevant: negotiation, helping others, creating clever solutions, and not needing to fit into a small space. The higher the score for each, the less likely the robots were on their way any time soon.

The safe list
According to the research, writers have only a 3.8% chance of being replaced by machines. It no doubt has a lot to do with the importance of creativity – something difficult for a machine to replicate. (Although it could equally be because computers simply cannot procrastinate as well as us, nor can they hold their liquor.)

But don’t break out the champagne just yet. Just last November, this article shined a light on the fact that computers are in fact already writing novels. It refers to the fact that one of the first computer-generated works of fiction was printed in 2008. It was called True Love. Sure, True Love was somewhat derivative, but still possibly better than many writers' first drafts. We’re safe for now, but there could be a day in the future when the Man Booker Prize becomes the Machine Booker Prize…

Other safe professions include architects (1.8%), primary school teachers (0.4%), interior designers (2.2%), priests (0.8%), police officers (9.8%), photographers (2.1%) and dentists (0.4%).

The not-so-safe list
Some jobs (like a guy at the parking building booth) aren’t quite so secure. Noble professions such as accountants (93.5%), bank tellers (98.3% – hello ATMs!), jewellers (95.5%) and butchers (93.3%) have every right to be concerned. As for telemarketers, they're unsurprisingly at 99% – their job is being done by machines already. (“Press 1 if you agree.”)

Typically these jobs require more precision (or monotony) than flair, meaning they’re perfect fodder for machines. Others in the firing line include roofers (89.7%), waiters (93.7%), bakers (88.8%), fashion models (97.6%), real estate agents (86.4%), taxi drivers (89.4%).

Just don’t collect your things just yet. We have a few years left before our coffee machines and alarm clocks turn on us.


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