The rapid improvements in technology have transformed how we work, and in most cases have made our jobs easier. But it's having another effect too – removing the need for a human worker altogether.
The technology boom is showing no sign of slowing. A report released in November 2017 by McKinsey Global Institute found that up to 800 million global workers will lose their jobs to technology by 2030.
The findings added to a study carried out by Deloitte, the Big Four accountancy firm, and the University of Oxford in 2014 that predicted that 35% of the jobs we do today in the UK could go to robots by 2034. Here are some jobs from yesteryear that have already gone and some we are starting to see being phased out.
The days of manual telephone switchboards are long gone. In the olden days, a switchboard operator would have to physically connect calls by inserting phone plugs into the relevant jacks. They would also be able to participate in the call. Switchboard operators still exist within organisations today, although the system is completely computerised.
Bowling alley pinsetter
We often take for granted the fact that all bowling alleys have machines to pick up our fallen pins and rearrange them (as well as keeping a tally of our scores on a screen!). In earlier times, a bowling alley pinsetter would be waiting at the end to pick up all the knocked-down pins and put them back in place.
Everyone who has used a lift knows that it’s not difficult – press a button and you’re on your way. But the first lifts did not automatically stop perfectly on the level you wanted. Instead, they were manually controlled by a large lever, and a lift operator would have to judge when to stop the lift. The technology on board today’s user-operated lifts now does all that for you.
When cinemas began, a film projectionist was needed to run mechanical projectors with 35mm celluloid rolls. It was quite a physical and involved task, but now we have turned to digital projectors so basic that anyone working in a cinema can load movies. As a result, the role of film projectionists has been diminished to near extinction (with the exception of the odd arthouse which chooses to stick with 35mm film).
How did people get up in the morning before alarm clocks existed? Up until around the 1920s, those who had to wake early relied on a knocker-upper (or knock-up) who would use a truncheon or long stick to hit your window until you woke up. Since then we’ve moved onto wind-up clocks, before shifting again to digital alarm clocks, some of which set the time automatically. But here's a question: who woke up the knocker-uppers?
Bridge toll collector
Bridge toll collectors still exist but their days are numbered as we move onto automated solutions. The Dartford Crossing is a prime example of this, which removed all its toll collection booths in favour of an electronic number plate recognition system not so long ago. The newer system uses sophisticated cameras mounted above each lane, logging every car’s number plate as it passes through. Drivers can pay before or up to 24 hours after incurring a charge on the phone, via text, online or in local shops. The system is used across the world today.
“Do you need any bags today?” the cashier usually asks. But perhaps not for long. Self-service checkouts are found in nearly every supermarket in the UK now, and it only takes one or two operators to manage a dozen checkouts or more. Self-checkouts aren’t confined to small basket shops – some supermarkets have full self-service checkouts with conveyor belts while others let you scan as you shop using a handheld scanner.
Train station sales assistant
Similarly to cashiers, train stations up and down the country now have machines to buy and collect tickets. It’s only a matter of time before all types of tickets can be ordered online and collected from self-operating machines at the station.
The number of factory workers in manufacturing has fallen sharply because of technological intervention, enabling machines to take on the heavy labour. One factory in China has replaced 90% of its human workers with robots already, a move which it says has resulted in fewer defects and an increase in production. Robots now carry out the majority of tasks on their own, meaning only a few human staff members are required to keep an eye on them and carry out maintenance.