There has been a lot of talk recently about job losses and how the recovery from the recent recession has been jobless. Historically, technological revolutions have eliminated many jobs but always created new job categories. For the first time in history, this many not be true. In this article, I'll explore the prospect of jobs actually going away and what the implications are for people and companies interested in a career in technology. I'll also dive into a selection of hot technology areas that are exhibiting a lot of momentum. But, the most exciting aspect of making your career future-proof is how to combine innovations from multiple areas to achieve synergies.
The Robots Are Coming
The robots are coming. We're all going to be out of a job soon. That may very well be true, but it's going to be a while. When, I say a while I mean at least several decades. Our technology is amazing and improving quickly, but introducing new technologies is not simple. There are many human, social, political and economic reasons why the rate of assimilating technology is on the scale of decades. For the most part it's hard to accelerate this process. The human capacity for absorbing new technology is limited. While some technologies can be introduced transparently, many other technologies that affects people directly must be introduced on a human time-line. From the point of view of a person looking for a career in technology there are many, many exciting areas that will be around for decades. In particular, if you have software development skills you'll be relevant for a long time in many domains.
Artificial intelligence has reached critical mass. It is being used by large companies, small startups and hobbyists to accomplish amazing feats. Improvements in hardware, networking and data management enable machine learning at scale. We've learned that in narrow and well-defined domains artificial intelligence can out-perform humans. But, we are a long way from letting AI running everything unscrutinized. In the near future, there will be a lot of progress and a lot of people will be needed to develop, work with and fine-tune AI-based systems. Some examples are self-driving cars, digital assistants and medical diagnoses.
Virtual reality is on the cusp of becoming the major digital user experience. Already, many people spend a great deal of their time on their mobile phones, tablets and laptops. Soon, with virtual reality, achieving an immersive user experience at a reasonable cost will expand and the need for VR content and applications will soar through the roof. In addition, VR has tremendous potential for a vast number of killer applications such as gaming, entertainment, remote health and education. Putting VR interfaces on new and existing systems will be a major and lucrative undertaking.
Sensors for a variety of modalities constantly become better and less expensive. Smart homes, factories, security and the environment can all benefit from better and up-to-date data streams coming from sensors. The big data revolution will keep riding on the coattails of massive datasets collected by sensors. The other aspect of sensors is that they sometimes require frequent calibration and maintenance. This may be an area where robots can perform well. However, building, testing and operating those sensor-heavy platforms will take a lot of skilled labor.
Transportation is booming. Electric cars, self-driving cars, drones and even flying cars (finally!) are all happening. There will be a lot of need for people to build, integrate and test those transportation systems. Don't forget the hyper-loop too, which, if successful, may become a new mode of transportation. While much of the attention is on transporting people, transporting goods in innovative ways is likely to spearhead the way due to fewer safety concerns and direct economic benefits.
Space is one of the most complicated targets to conquer, but it may have the most long-term importance. In the short term, satellites and communication may be low hanging fruit. Later, asteroid mining may bring an age of resource abundance. Even later, we're talking about the human race to other planets. Going back to earth, the aerospace area may not be the safest bet right now from a career perspective. But if you're interested, it may be worthwhile to pursue a role in this exciting area, keeping an option open to switch to other related industries.
Energy is of course critical for enabling many of the other technologies. There are many interesting developments from basic physics research (e.g. cold fusion), to batteries and of course the ongoing improvements in clean energy sources. Solar, hydro and wind are getting better, more efficient and more cost-effective. Costa Rica famously went for 100 days on alternative energy and is now planning a whole year. Batteries are getting more capable and less expensive as well. If you're interested in either energy or the environment, you can't go wrong by pursuing a career here. The innovation and evolution will continue for a long time.
Health and Biotechnology
Health is arguably the most important thing in the world for a person. As life expectancy grows, the importance of leading a healthy life increases. We are at an intersection of research and technology. Stem cell research and techniques like CRISPR have a lot of promise and have shown some remarkable results already. Other efforts, such as eradicating diseases, bode well for global health. Advances in artificial limbs enhance the life quality of many people. Medical records management may not be as exciting, but it is a crucial component and presents a challenging set of problems. If you like to see direct impact of your work on the lives of people around you, it may be the best area in which to pursue a career.
Nanotechnology and Smart Materials
The age of mass production and customization is here with factory automation, robotics and 3D printing, BUT there is still a long way to go. Nanotechnology is still utilized on a large-scale in very specific domains such as computer chip fabrication. New materials with special properties like Graphene are discovered and investigated. There will be a lot of activity to commercialize and productize the research results.
All these industries and domains are indeed exciting, but the cross-fertilization between them and building system that utilize advances from multiple domains is where the value will be created. It's hard to imagine what kind of applications and systems will arise, but it's easy to predict that they will be revolutionary.
The world is changing fast. Computers and software are getting better and may replace most humans' work one day. But, that day is still a few decades away. In the meantime, there is a plethora of super-exciting areas to get into and build a career on. Combining advances from different fields is where the future is. You can build it.