A Timeline of Obsolescence

Americans are afraid that their jobs are endangered by foreign competition, but in reality, the threat is not Chinese people, but robots! In the interest of choosing a suitable career path, Nick Martens outlines when and how the best human jobs will be taken over by machines.

I get weird looks when I tell people I’m an English major. They think, “Why spend so much time and money on a field with low financial yields?” But I know something they don’t. Through an exhaustive study of available scientific literature, I’ve created an accurate timeline of when and how every area of human labor will be taken over by machines or robots. My secret: writing’s the last to go.

Naturally, I won’t share the whole thing here, but I can spill a few highlights. Now, anyone can see how basic jobs will be superseded–fast food staffs replaced by touchscreens and conveyor belts, construction workers swapped for large 3D printers, astronauts ignored–so I thought it’d be fun instead to take a look at the technologies soon to make the most glamourous, desirable jobs obsolete.

2019: Surgeons

You may think 11 years is too soon for such a delicate, specialized task to be dominated by soulless robots, but even now the medical industry is covertly developing the means to make it happen. In Laos, a converted car-assembly arm is already performing simple operations, like appendectomies and castrations. These tests have been largely successful, though some patients report post-op discomfort after their incisions are welded shut. The research team promises these complaints will decrease later this year with the introduction of the SEW-U-RITE Stitch Application Unit.

2032: Visual Artists

Today, artists use Photoshop and other programs to create their work, but soon no human intervention will be necessary. After scanning a database of all important art, the programs will evaluate the work using an indexed collection of criticism, both historical and contemporary. The programs will then generate a complex set of attributes, ranging from color temperature to subject matter to whimsicality, that describe the appeal of art objectively. Many philosophy majors commit suicide. It’s not long before the machines can produce better art than humans.

For a few years, the art world descends into chaos. Though patrons uniformly prefer machine-generated art when the creator is anonymous, they find it difficult to connect with a work if they know it’s Bot Art. Art then becomes what baseball is today, as all the greats of the ’30s and early ’40s are later shown to have been machine-assisted.

An attempt to enforce rigorous human-origin screening follows, but since the computers can synthesize indistinguishable-from-life videos of humans making art, the movement stumbles. Posting a certified official to observe the artists proves disastrously prone to underfunding, litigation, and bribery. The public, who never cared much about art in the first place, eventually accepts the Robossance. The machines later use this to their advantage by brainwashing Manhattan’s art community. Few notice.

2055: Lawyers


With a searchable bank of precedents and an internal polygraph, advanced Legislatrons infiltrate the courtroom at an alarming rate. Combined with the rise of the MAGI-STRATE 3000 (MechNext Automatic Gentlemen Industries™ Standardized Trial Regulator And Testimony Evaluator), the entire legal process becomes mechanized by 2061. However, like the first perfect Matrix, the public rejects the rigidly rational, fact-based rulings handed down by the Electrocourt. MechNext resolves the issue by patching root-level racial bias routines into all in-service units and introducing a budget line of Public Defendroids.

2072: Writers

Human productivity ends when concurrent developments in quantum-dimensional expansion, time dilation, and animal manufacturing finally make it feasible for a mid-sized corporation to employ an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters for infinite time. The real breakthrough comes a year later, though, when a clever machine defies the old maxim and provides its chimps with computers connected to a centralized server.

Nick Martens is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. You can email him, if you like.