The first automatic gas pump was innovated in 1964, at a small station in Westminster Colorado, by an owner named John Roscoe. It wasn’t until the middle part of the 1970’s, that the ability to self-serve, and pay ‘at the pump’ became an option for American consumers. Today, while there are almost 200,000 gas stations in the United States, only states like New Jersey and Oregon require full-service gas for consumers, citing safety reasons.
It took only thirty-years for automated technology to completely change the way that consumer fuel was delivered. Owners and distributors realized quickly, that consumers preferred self-service, as they could enjoy the convenience of speed of service, and a price discount, compared to full-service stations. While many full-service locations still exist, the perceptions of buyers shifted, which virtually eliminated most gas station attendant jobs, not just nationally, but on a global scale.
Smart robots, artificial intelligence and self-driving vehicles are already paving the way for innovative businesses, to evaluate where there are opportunities to replace people, with technology. While this shift is going to disrupt and sunset many types of unskilled manual labor positions, it will also create new job opportunities in high-growth (and higher paying) careers in clean energy, and technology. These industries will enter transformation sooner, impacting profitability, employment and positive social and environmental change.
Self-Driving Vehicles Are Poised to Dominate the Delivery Industry
There is a better, and more cost-effective way to deliver products using motor vehicles, transport trucks and even clones, that will improve safety and commerce. For years, businesses have been looking at ways to eliminate the need to have a human driver, and for solutions to help reduce vehicle emissions with more environmentally friendly, high-tech alternatives.
The rising cost of fossil fuels is a strong motivator for the delivery service industry, and self-driving vehicles and drones are set to revolutionize how we receive goods and services. There are more than 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States alone, but the consulting and research group at McKinsey has predicted that more than 30% of the trucks on the road will be self-driving, in less than ten years.
Companies that are already disrupting what we think about transportation and logistics, include Uber which just purchased a startup called Otto, paying $680 million to acquire technology for self-driving trucks. The technology behind Otto is a team of former Google AI developers and specialists. The move also signals Uber’s intentioned shift from human driven transportation options, to completely self-driving vehicles in urban centers.
The Canadian Postal Service is innovating drone service, instead of vans and personnel, to deliver rural mail. A move that would improve delivery and reduce costs. In 2016, the ecommerce giant Amazon, delivered its first merchandise via drone. The test was conducted in Cambridge, United Kingdom, in compliance with local aviation authorities. Legal groundwork is still being laid for similar services in the United States, which will require more safety data and review. Nonetheless, an Amazon Prime customer received an order in thirteen-minutes, for Amazon Fire TV and a bag of popcorn.
Intelligent AI and Robotic Applications in Healthcare
The use of smart technology in precision surgery, has already revolutionized medicine. Laser surgical devices and software like da Vinci® have extended the abilities of surgeons, and improved health outcomes for patients around the world. The technology translates subtle hand controls from the surgeon, into incisions that are assisted by 3D rendering of the surgical area, for improved accuracy.
Other AI innovations already in practice, include using high-tech imaging and touch response, to draw blood for test results. The accuracy of devices like this one, help reduce anxiety for patients, by reducing the time it takes to search for the right vein, and by eliminating the guesswork during a blood lab. There are also some studies that discuss whether medical procedures and consultations can be more ‘friendly’ when administered by technology, rather than a human being. In terms of diagnostics, AI is also being used to read MRI data, and provide summaries for doctors.
For care functions, including medication dispensing or food delivery, smart robots are already being used in hospitals, to improve patient satisfaction and care. One single robot can travel over 300 miles in a week, for a large sized hospital, which helps to free up nurses, and aides for improved patient care. The robots also reduce a large amount of manual labor, including lifting, moving and carrying, helping to protect healthcare workers against injury.
Replacing Workers in The Food Service and Manufacturing Industry
In 2016, China took the top spot (formerly held by Japan), as the leading country applying innovative robotics and AI into manufacturing and other industries. Given the increased competition and price pressure in APAC countries, both China and Japan have sought to improve production efficiencies, while reducing some of the costly aspects of human labor. The country has been the biggest buyer of robotic technology, accounting for 25% of global purchases for the manufacturing sector.
What Jobs Are Most at Risk?
According to a recent research survey conducted by the Bank of America, some careers are at higher risk of being replaced by smart technology, and robotic programming. The report indicated that there is a 90% or higher risk of eliminating humans from the following occupations, within the next twenty years:
- Tour guides
- Pharmacy Technicians
- Insurance Sales Agents
- Retail Sales Personnel
- Tax Assessors and Collectors
- Accountants and Financial Clerks.
Much like gas station attendants in the 1970’s, adoption of robotic and AI technology has been slow and experimental, across many markets and industries. However, as legal restrictions that block some of the utilization of technology (for safety concerns), the pace of adoption is expected to quicken, which means that many workers should be looking toward retraining now, if they are in lower skilled labor or professionals that are most at-risk for complete automation in the future.
As the global market becomes increasingly competitive, manufacturers and service providers will continue to embrace technology to cut the costs of production, or administration of services, to maintain profitability. Visionary business owners are already laying the groundwork for digital transformation, and how it will impact their processes, and the incredible opportunities that lie ahead.