With headlines predicting jobs being automated out of existence we begin imagining unrealistic consequences for what lies ahead.

German industrial giant, Siemens, recently hosted an Innovation Day that I participated in at their Chicago design center to give thought leaders a first look at many of the cutting edge technologies they’re working on. The topics they covered ranged from autonomous vehicles to drone taxis, electric and hybrid electric aircraft, digital twins, agripods, virtual reality, robotics, microgrids, energy storage, AI-powered manufacturing and the overall potential of digitaized value chain.

All these ideas offered tremendous insight into the the world ahead. But more than insight into technology, they give us a glimpse of what some of our jobs will be in the future.

If you walked into an average 1950s-era household, you would see much that you would recognize, including home appliances, a television and likely a car in the garage. ON the other hand, if you had to live in a 1900s-era home, with no running water or electricity, you would struggle to survive and thrive.

Now we’re entering a new age of innovation that is likely to be far more impactful than the last. Much like the computer revolution was built on top of electricity, this new era will use computing to drive advancement in other fields, such as genomics, nanotechnology and robotics.

This new era has already begun.

We are learning to manipulate individual atoms and molecules while simultaneously working with massive amounts of data to create machines that can do jobs previously thought of as uniquely human. Still, much like our predecessors, we struggle to fully grasp what the impact will be.

Glasing over the internet

Like most people, I have a habit of glossing over many of the interim steps necessary to make the engineering advances that seem obvious.

As example, the first experiments on driverless vehicles actually started in the 1920s and researchers then envisioned that someday all cars would be able to drive themselves. But this leap in advancements has taken nearly 100 years so far, and we’re still not there.

Similarly, physicist Dennis Gabor first worked on the idea of holography and three-dimensional displays in 1947. While it has been easy to envision a lifelike 3D display, the engineering needed to create one has been far more complicated than first imagined. Nearly 70 years later we still haven’t achieved it.

For these reasons it has been very easy to under-predict the time necessary for change to take place, and the full scope of the resulting impact.

Today, we find ourselves competing in a networked world where the key to competitive advantage is no longer the sum of all efficiencies, but the sum of all connections. Strategy, therefore, must be focused on widening and deepening linkages to access ecosystems of technology, talent and information, and the talent piece of this equation should never be underestimated.

It’s become common to think that if a job disappears that it’s simply gone and nothing will fill the void. But that’s not true.

With all the headlines predicting jobs being automated out of existence, as robots and artificial intelligence take over our jobs, we begin imagining delusional timelines and unrealistic consequences for what lies ahead.

The first misconception is that robots, automation and A.I. destroy jobs, which is not true. It does kill parts of jobs and eliminates the needs for certain skills, but entire jobs are far more complex than that.

In the short- to medium-term, the main effect of automation will not necessarily be eliminating jobs, but redefining them.

As example, ATM machines did replace many of the tasks that bank tellers performed, but not all of them. Instead, ATMs enabled tellers to be more efficient doing other things.


Retail salesperson – 4,155,190

Cashiers – 3,354,170

Office clerks – 2,789,590

Combined food preparation and serving workers – 2,692,170

Registered nurses – 2,601,336

Waiters and waitresses – 2,244,480

Customer service reps – 2,146,120

Janitors and cleaners – 2,058,610

Freight, stock, and hand material mover laborers – 2,024,180

Secretaries and admin assistants – 1,841,020

Stock clerks and order fillers – 1,795,970

General and operation managers – 1,708,080

Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks – 1,675,250

Elementary school teachers – 1,485,600

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers – 1,466,740

Nursing aides, orderlies, and attendants – 1,451,090

Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives – 1,367,210

First-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers – 1,359,950

Teacher assistants – 1,249,380

Bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists – 1,222,770

Maintenance and repair workers – 1,217,820

First-line supervisors of retail sales workers – 1,172,070

Executive secretaries and executive administrative assistants – 1,132,070

Accountants and auditors – 1,072,490

Secondary school teachers – 1,053,140

Security guards – 1,006,880

Receptionists and information clerks – 997,080

Business operations specialists – 993,980

Home health aides – 982,840

Team assemblers – 928,170

Restaurant Cooks – 901,310

Maids and housekeeping cleaners – 865,960

Landscaping and grounds-keeping workers – 829,350

Food preparation workers – 802,650

Light truck or delivery service drivers – 780,260

Construction laborers – 777,700

First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers – 773,400

Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses – 730,290

Shipping, receiving, and traffic clerks – 687,850

Personal care aides – 686,030

Packers and packagers – 676,870

Middle school teachers – 655,090

Police and sheriff’s patrol officers – 644,300

Carpenters – 620,410

Childcare workers – 611,280

Automotive service technicians and mechanics – 587,510

Computer support specialists – 579,270

Lawyers – 561,350

Tellers – 556,310

First-line supervisors of production and operating workers – 555,260


The technology that is the primary job generator, not professions themselves.

For this reason, the following list of common jobs will be framed around common technologies like drones, robots, and blockchain as opposed to professional categorizations like nurse, teacher, or engineer.

Keep in mind we’re automating tasks out of existence, not entire jobs. As tasks disappear, new ones will be created and redefined.


So far we haven’t seen the iPhone equivalent in robotics where people can build apps and robots are capable of many things. That will happen well before 2040.

However, smart robots will still require an entire ecosystem of support staff to operate at peak efficiency. In much the same way a single passenger plane creates employment for dozens of people (pilots, flight attendants, ground crew, reservationists, ticket agents, etc.), our most versatile robots will require a team of support workers to optimize their performance.


In many respects, data is the new oil. As a seemingly unlimited resource with the potential to create millions of new products, data will spawn hundreds of new job categories.


By 2040, large fleets of drones will be very common, as we will have surpassed the first billion-drone mark in the early 2030s. Drones will come in every possible shape and size, and since risks are high and so many things can go wrong, we will see many drone-related positions created for monitoring payloads, systems and optimizing traffic flow.


Yes, we will still have nurses and doctors in the future, but most of the job growth in the health industry will be surrounding the digitization of personal health and the optimization of human performance.


Over the past few decades we have transitioned from a world where information was scarce and only the experts had access, to a time where information is plentiful but only the experts know what to pay attention to. Before 2040 there will be a similar transformation as we begin adding AI enhancements to our bodies and minds where only those skilled in the craft will be able to fully leverage the AI turbocharging we add to our capability mix.


Yes, it will eventually be possible to automate many of these positions out of business, but it will require thousands of iterative developments for increasingly narrow niche edge cases. In many situations we simply reach the point of diminishing returns where it’s far cheaper and easier to employ a person instead of building a robot to handle a situation that only occurs once in every million-car trips.


Blockchain in all its forms and derivations represents an exciting new industry that will overlay virtually every other industry. In many respects, this is virgin territory and we have yet to discover the true limits of blockchain.


Over the next two decades 3D printing will grow exponentially in speed, precision and in the kinds of material that can be used. This will open the doors to a wide variety of support personnel, as each machine becomes a major profit center.


While the existing banking/finance industries will still employ a huge number of people, the traditional money world will be shrinking as automation causes most of the branch banking outlets to disappear. At the same time we will see over 50 percent of national currencies replaced by cryptocurrencies. Most of the growth in the financial sector will take place in professions surrounding cryptocurrency.


By 2040 the data universe will be driven by more than 100 trillion sensors. As the MEMs and sensor industry uncovers innovative ways to sense and monitor different aspects of the world around us, the number of workers needed to bridge the interface between data and our physical world will also grow exponentially.


Space X is causing industry experts to rethink timetables for the entire space industry. By 2040, we will have already begun to colonize Mars and space tourism rocket launches will be a daily occurrence. Similar to the airline industry, every launch will require a large cast of people employed in hundreds of different roles.


Asteroids are filled with all the ingredients necessary to construct things in space as well as material that can be taken back to earth. As launch costs continue to drop, activity in this space will grow quickly.


With the first fusion power plant coming online in 2040, the global power industry will be making plans to build literally thousands of new fusion power plants to replace our aging power infrastructure. Even though it will still be a fledgling industry, the hiring and prep work will have already begun.


By 2040 we will be able to program our way to better health and genetically cure most diseases. Most will be wearing a huge range of sensors offering real-time monitoring. Longevity will rise, with many living well beyond 100. Children born in 2040 will essentially have a blank slate when it comes to life expectancy. With gene therapy, stem cell and nano-scale medicine, barring an accident or fatal disease, we cease to worry about dying, and look much younger as we age.


We will have begun building a global tube transportation network, which will commonly be referred to as the world’s largest infrastructure project. Tube transportation will employ millions of people in both the construction and operation of the global tube system.


Qubits are the standard units used to measure quantum information. With quantum computing, all traditional encryption systems become hackable, and all users will have been forced to upgrade to quantum level encryption long before 2040.


Few of us realize this, but we’ve been taught to think two-dimensionally. Starting with 2D paper, books, whiteboards and blackboards, our schools have beaten us over the head with 2D thinking. As we moved into the computer age, we moved to 2D screens. If we throw away the display on our computer and project everything three-dimensionally above our desks, we can’t even imagine what it’ll look like to “surf the net,” produce a 3D website, or if we created 3D charts and graphs, what that third dimension will represent. We all live in a three-dimensional world, but we’re only now getting to the point of experiencing it the way it already exists.


Even though it’s still not commercially available, within two years it will be cheaper than ranch grown meats, and that’s where things get very interesting because a number of industrial pivots will kick in, opening the doors to a vast new set of industries


By 2040 home automation will be used to protect people, their health and belongings as much as it is to enhance their lives.


In 2040 we will be living in a world that will require higher caliber people to make it work, and it’s rather preposterous to think our existing systems can suddenly start producing better results. AI-enhanced teacherbots are coming and the ones who benefit the most will be the ones who start making an early transition.

Today we can only see a small slice of what the future holds for us. We know that computer architecture, energy sources and manufacturing practices will change dramatically and we can see rough outlines of the shifts ahead. What we can’t see is the secondary effects, the technologies and business models that will build on top of base technologies, that will impact tomorrow’s industries.

There were no newspaperman who looked at a mainframe computer and saw social media or websites, just like no retail storeowners that looked at the first “horseless carriages” saw the coming of strip malls and supermarkets. They were too busy trying to serve their customers and beat their existing competitors. For this reason they missed the growing threat that would eventually disrupt their businesses.

That’s why today it is crucially important to set aside resources to explore, experiment and to tackle grand challenges so that you can begin to understand and ultimately harness the forces that will shape an industry. It’s better to prepare than adapt because, by the time you see the need to adapt, it may already be too late.


Thomas Frey


Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker. At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come. His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

Via Cobiz Magazine