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Will I Be Replaced by a Robot?

From Henry Ford’s assembly line in the forties to the modern operating room we have witnessed the growing importance of automation in the workforce. This technological explosion has left us guessing at the future of our labor force.

Will humans be replaced robots? How will technology impact the role of professionals in the future?

According to a report by McKinsey and Company last July, 45% of activities that Americans are paid to perform could be automated using today’s technology. But, precisely who is affected by this varies widely across sectors and especially activities performed.

To get a clearer look at this the McKinsey team divided the work carried out by the U.S. labor force into seven classifications as follows:

Activities Highly Susceptible to Automation

Predictable Physical Work

This type of activity is considered the most susceptible to automation because 78% of the total time spent on this activity could be performed by adapting current technology. It includes welding on an assembly line, food preparation, and packaging objects. An estimated 18% of the labor force’s time is spent on such activities.

Data Processing

This activity is calculated to have a 69% susceptibility to automation. It makes up 16% of the U.S. economy and can take up as much as 90% of a mortgage broker’s time.

Data Collection

This activity takes up 17% of the American labor force’s time and with a 64% susceptibility to automation, has an automation potential comparable to that of Data Processing. Combined with Data Processing, it takes up about half of workers’ time in the financial and insurance sectors.

Activities Less Susceptible to Automation

Unpredictable Physical Work

This activity ranges from operating a crane at a construction site to cleaning hotel rooms and comprises 12% of paid time in the economy. Because modern technology is not equipped to handle unpredictable environments, the automation potential is less than one third of that of Predictable Physical Work at only 25%. If in the future technology can adapt to unpredictable environments, the automation potential would soar to 67%.

Managing Stakeholder Interactions

An estimated 16% of time in the U.S. economy is spent on positions that manage interactions between people. Because of the interpersonal component of this activity, it is only 20% susceptible to automation.

Applying Expertise

This would be anything that includes decision making, planning, or creative work and can range from coding software to designing menus. It makes up 14% of the economy and is only 18% susceptible to automation because of the need for cognition.

Managing Others

With only a 9% automation potential this activity is the least susceptible to automation because, at least for now, only humans can set goals, interpret results, or use common sense to check work. This classification also takes up only 7% of workers’ time, the least amount of all the categories.


What does all of this mean? We can expect increased automation in almost every profession going forward, but the degree and speed of which this change occurs will vary greatly. The core of professional work will likely shift away from data collection and data processing and in favor of the highly personal tasks involved in applying expertise and managing others. Perhaps most importantly, the professionals of the future will likely spend significant time and effort in maintaining the personal relationships with clients that form the foundation of trust, the currency of the professions in the future.

Be sure to keep an eye out for coming articles to learn more about how automation will affect our economy and way of life.

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