An array of jobs now considered the fabric of our economy and society will likely disappear within a decade or two.
From financial brokering to truck driving, transformation is a certainty — and sooner rather than later.
"We will see more change in the next 10 years than the past 50," futurist Steve Brown said during a Friday presentation at Southern Oregon University.
Brown lives in a apartment tower in Portland's Pearl District, populated by upscale professionals. One of his neighbors is a radiologist anticipating prime years of his career.
"He is building a beautiful new house in Camas, Wash.," Brown said. "I had to take him aside one day and say 'Joseph, you do know that your job as a radiologist is going away, right?'
"He looked at me horridly and said, 'What do you mean?' He spent years of his life training to be a radiologist; he's an incredibly smart man with incredible skills. He did years in residency, and yet artificial intelligence is going to take away a good portion of his job.
"I had to break this news to him, it's going to show up first in the form of an assistant that helps you, just gives your guides on reading charts, and telling you what it might see in those charts," Brown related. "Does it see a tumor here, or some issue there?"
The friend went pale.
"We just got the assistant last month," he told Brown.
"It doesn't matter what walk of life you're in, technology is going to affect the way that you work," Brown said. "Scary stuff, but I don't want you to be too scared."
His window into the job market of the future is admittedly threatening and worrisome, he said. But rather than being paralyzed by fear or worried about future generations, he encouraged his audience to prepare for tomorrow.
While retail has been dramatically changed by technology, the effects on education and health care have lagged. Homes, communities and industries are going to be hacked — but not in the way we currently think of hacking.
"We're going to hack ourselves," he said. "Everything from ingestable, implantables, bionics to hacking our nervous systems, and even our DNA."
The improvements in the digital world will show up, and be felt even more, in the physical world.
"Artificial intelligence is all around you already," Brown said.
Face and voice recognition are ubiquitous; Siri and Alexa fall into that realm. When FaceBook suggests names to go with your photo post or credit ratings are pulled up and fingerprint recognition is available on phones, AI is at work.
"It's also going to get used to solve a lot of problems," he said.
From medicine to the business world data crunching will expand, Brown said. "Any time you see patterns in vast seas of data, computers are better at doing that than humans."
AI embodied is a robot, he said. Heretofore, robots were used in manufacturing. Now they can maneuver in a working environment because of object and pattern recognition. Robots presently thin out potted plants in nurseries, lay bricks three to four times faster than a brick layer and bring fresh towels or toothbrushes to hotel guests,
Starship Technologies, whose resume includes Skype and PayPal development, has introduced robots that deliver groceries. A van drives to a community, releases the robots that scatter to their destination, avoiding people and hazards, and return to the van. Just Eat and Dominoes are already using them.
"What's interesting is this company thinks they can do deliveries to your door for $1," Brown said. "What does that do to retail, when you can buy stuff and have it delivered to your front door in an hour for a dollar; retailers are really worried about this."
Autonomous vehicles will roll out next year with mass delivery in 2020, and commercial trucks will soon follow suit, he predicted. The most common job in 29 states is truck, delivery or taxi driver.
"Three-and-a-half-million people rely on driving to put food on their family's tables," he said. "This affects all of us."
Financial transactions, now handled by banks may soon be handled through a central ledger. Blockchain, the underlying technology for crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, will grow in use.
"Think of it as a highly distributed ledger that keeps track of transactions," Brown said. "There's no reason the bank has to have that ledger. That ledger could be distributed on everybody's computers and encrypted with military-grade encryption to make sure it cannot be changed. We could all trust a distributive ledger that nobody owns; in fact all of us own a piece of it.""
Boiled down, it's a technology that establishes trust among strangers.
"If you were doing a housing transaction, just think about all the people involved with escrow, holding on to your money, contracts, and that title thing when you're all panicking and there's lots of signing, and papers moving back and forth," he said. "All that is gone with blockchain. Essentially, financial services 20 years from now becomes just software. Brokers, stock exchangers, notaries, underwriters, escrow, auditors may all be out of job, because of blockchain."
— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.