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Throughout 2016, fast-food workers staged protests nationwide, demanding that the minimum wage be raised to $15 per hour.
Soon after, restaurants like McDonald's — a company that saw plenty of its own employees among the protesters — announced the introduction of automated self-serving kiosks, eliminating the need for human workers without hurting customer experience.
If the news came as a harsh blow to the fast food protesters, it seems that they shouldn't be the only ones worried about getting replaced by machines.
According to a new study from think tank Reform, 90% of the civil service workers in Britain could wind up seeing their jobs replaced by robots — over the course of just the next 15 years.
The study notes that “public sector employee unions have bloated the civil service ranks,” and that — by replacing low-level employees who are tasked with things like collecting data and filing paperwork — the British government could save roughly the equivalent of $8 billion per year.
What's more, as Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer for The White House, Ed Felten wrote in May of 2016, a similar revolution is coming to the American government and its roughly 22 million employees. As Felten notes, departments have already begun studying how artificial intelligence can be leveraged to create “a more effective government.”
Beyond federal governments, the looming automation of the global labor force is a very real issue — one that could significantly affect more than a dozen different industry sectors in the U.S:
On example, interestingly enough, is the agricultural field — which is believed to employ over 300,000 workers that don't have valid immigration papers.
As Bloomberg notes:
Robotic devices like lettuce thinners and grape-leaf pullers have replaced so many human hands on U.S. farms in recent years that many jobs now held by illegal workers may not exist by the time Donald Trump builds his promised wall.
Another example would be Amazon's long-anticipated plan to use drones to deliver packages.
While it's believed that it will still be several years before drones see widespread use in this capacity, successful tests — like a drone that delivered a box of cookies from a seaside town to a tanker ship last March — have already been carried out.
Shipping company Maersk has said that such drone deliveries, whether they're for spare parts or medicine, could cut costs of $3,000 to $9,000 per ship every year.
While it might seem like such impending changes could spell doom for a human-based labor market, as The Economist notes that the need for labor has a tendency to react and evolve:
“We can’t predict what jobs will be created in the future, but it’s always been like that,” says Joel Mokyr, an economic historian at Northwestern University.
Imagine trying to tell someone a century ago that her great-grandchildren would be video-game designers or cybersecurity specialists, he suggests. “These are jobs that nobody in the past would have predicted.”
In the end, it seems the question isn't if industries will truly shift to using machines instead of human workers, but simply a question of when.