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Postal Workers

13 Jobs Lost to the Automation Uprising

Postal workers have really gotten the short end of the stick, because not only was such a large chunk of their business taken out by the Internet, but they also have to contend with robots coming in and doing what little job they have left.

Did the advent of electronic mail hurt the USPS? Not really. Although it makes sense in theory that everyone switching from snail mail letters to emails would hurt their business, numbers show that isn’t the case. Just like they survived the fax machine, the postal service kept on chugging at a good pace well into the email heyday.

I did say the Internet took away their business, email just wasn’t the culprit. For starters, online billing hurt their bottom line. Nobody had to send letters, but you do have to pay your bills. Once online billing became a thing, USPS lost a lot of revenue. They even tried to beat the Internet to the punch with their own online billing service that would help customers pay their bills, but people soon realized it was an unnecessary middleman and it died out in a few years.

People did mail letters, though, and postcards were a popular way to stay in touch. It’s true that those have slowed down considerably, but it wasn’t due to email as much as social media. Why send your friend a postcard from Cabo when you can “send” a personal picture that you took yourself to your friends and family all at once by posting it on Facebook? The prevalence and accessibility of social media is the real culprit behind the death of handwritten letters and vacation postcards.

There’s still mail to sort, though. Despite the rise of paperless billing and online payments, a lot of consumers still prefer to get the actual bill in the mail. There are also magazines, online shopping, and subscription services. There’s work to be done and a lot of that work is done by automated mail sorters, which can process up to 55,000 #10 envelopes in an hour.

It’s not a great time to be a postal employee.

Pilots/Drones

13 Jobs Lost to the Automation Uprising

The UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, was conceived for military use and are still primarily used for military applications. A highly classified U.S. Air Force UAV program codenamed “Red Wagon” was launched in 1959 in response to losing pilots flying over hostile territory. Designed for missions that are too “dull, dirty, or dangerous” for humans, they’re regularly used for surveillance purposes and precision military strikes. Fast forward to 2013 and at least fifty countries use UAVs, including China, Iran, and Pakistan.

Unmanned drones are slowly making their way into the consumer and commercial space. While they’ve been popular among photographers and extreme athletes for years for their recording capabilities, companies like Amazon are testing delivery drones that would take some of the load off of their human drivers. A drone-filled airspace is a relatively new development and regulations and laws regarding drone use are currently being worked out.

Fast Food

13 Jobs Lost to the Automation Uprising

The fast food industry has begun to utilize machines in two facets of business: ordering and cooking. Chains like McDonald’s and Panera are using self-service kiosks to allow customers to place their orders. Considering that a lot of major fast food chains have mobile apps that can do the same thing, this isn’t surprising at all. The more interesting development is in the kitchen, where robots are taking over some of the meal prep duties. US burger chain CaliBurger utilizes a robot named Flippy that can flip patties and clean grills. Arby’s uses a smart oven that roasts beef before switching to holding mode, so employees don’t have to come in early in the morning to prepare for lunchtime.  Shanghai has a KFC restaurant that doesn’t employ a single human being.

Those are just a few examples of the way the fast food industry is using more automation, but unlike a lot of other industries, they’re not replacing workers. According to Business Insider, fast food employee turnover rates hit a record high this year, so these new concepts and devices are actually filling gaps amidst a legitimate labor shortage.

We’ve Always Been Automating

The idea of robots taking jobs away from humans (and in effect, the food off their tables) is plenty worrisome, but the truth is every major industry utilizes automation of some sort and that’s nothing new. In most cases, these automated processes are in place to help the employees perform their jobs more effectively, not take the job from them. And the truth is that some jobs are simply too dangerous for human beings. Automation can and continues to be our friend in most cases.

I mean, until the inevitable uprising, of course.

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