Death of the VCR

Did you know that half of today’s jobs will become obsolete in the next 15 years?

According to Kai-fu Lee, one of China’s leading artificial intelligence experts, nearly 50% of all jobs today will be automated by 2034. As technology becomes more advanced, and hence more capable, many jobs that were traditionally performed by humans are being taken up by machines.

Just a few years ago, self-driving vehicles were pure science fiction. Today, thanks to massive advancements in technology, there is a global movement to make autonomous vehicles a norm on our roads.

Similarly, advancements in artificial intelligence have given computers the ability to converse in such perfectly natural way that becoming increasingly difficult to tell if you are talking to a person or a machine.

Just these two advancements will be directly responsible for the death of at least a dozen careers within the next five years, among them taxi drivers, truck drivers, chauffeurs, secretaries, receptionists, call centre agents and personal assistants.


As technology continues on its relentless path, we will see more profession disappearing.

While this trend may be alarming, it is nothing new. We are living in a time of rapid technology advancement, with new technologies constantly replacing old ones; and when this happens, people working with the old tech have to move on.

Many of us may not realize it, but this has been a recurring pattern for at least half a century.

Technology killed the Video Star?

Just a few years ago we had VCR’s, audio cassette players, CD players and DVD players for watching movies and listening to audio tracks. These technologies were truly revolutionary, and completely transformed the movie and music industries in their times.

Because of their usefulness, these media became ubiquitous. Millions of people all over the world used them, and they spawned entire industries which employed hundreds of thousands of people.

There were people who designed them, manufactured them, sold them and repaired them.

Then there were factories that manufactured the cassettes, CD’s or DVD’s that ran on these devices which themselves employed tens of thousands of people.

Not to mention the dozens of downstream industries like recording studios where original content was written onto the various media for distribution. The video rental industry, which employed countless people in thousands of video rental stores, was also a victim of this revolution, with names like Blockbuster being relegated to history books and internet memes.

All things considered, it will not be an exaggeration to say that these technologies provided jobs to millions of people.

The trouble is, they disappeared almost overnight. When was the last time you watched a movie on a VCR, a CD or even a DVD? When last did you even see one of these items?

We know what happened to these technologies: they were replaced by memory sticks, external hard disks and, more recently, streaming media.

The question is, when these technologies went obsolete, what happened to the millions of people who worked in industries related to them? Was it all doom and gloom?

Strangely, we did not see tens of thousands of people become unemployed. Most likely, they moved onto other professions. As some technologies became obsolete, others replaced them and people simply got into those. New technologies always created new opportunities.

The result is the emergence of new fields and new careers that did not exist previously. In fact, the top-10 in-demand jobs today did not exist 10 years ago.

When we speak of the “iPhone” today, almost everyone in the world knows what it is. Yet, 12 years ago, if you said the “iPhone” to someone, they’d think you were trying to sayin “I phone…[someone]” and their question would be, “You phone who?”

Similarly, terms like “cloud computing”, “computing for green”, “advanced analytics”, and “android” did not exist a few years ago. Similarly, because it has become such a big part of our lives, most people don’t realise that Wi-Fi technology was barely standardised 10 years ago.

Yet, today dozens of people are working in those fields, which are still expanding and require more skilled people. The trouble, it seems, is not a lack of work, more likely but a lack of skilled people.

AI may be the Future, but it can’t do everything

Moreover, according to Lee, AI may be the future, but it can’t do everything; and certain professions are safe from the fourth industrial revolution, like those that involve empathy or human-to-human interaction. Professions like therapists, nurses, teachers or doctors will always remain with humans.

Lee further states that innovative and creative professions are also safe because AI generally struggles with those. This will not only include art, graphics and design in its various forms, but also engineering and scientific research.

These insights from one of the world’s leading AI experts are a much needed dose of optimism, particularly at a time when there is wide-spread apprehension about machines stealing jobs. It is a clear message that there is no basis for the concern.

Lee does warn that education will need to adapt to prepare younger generations for the new landscape.


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