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  • Writer's pictureCarlos Alba

The rat catchers may have the last laugh thanks to artificial intelligence

Time and the march of artificial intelligence technology wait for no man, and it appears only to be a matter of months before all our jobs will be taken over by R2D2.


In days of yore ie. the 1990s, it wasn’t unusual for baby boomers to have spent their entire working lives with a single employer, before they retired at 50 with a carriage clock and boozy send-off at Yates Wine Lodge, to spend more time with their Dire Straits CDs and lads’ mag collection.


But things have changed, and in today’s world of disposable employment, many people find that their role has been made redundant between them attending a job interview and turning up for their first day at work.


It’s a sign of the times that the greatest job security is to be found in launching a microbusiness from the cupboard on the stairs, making artisan quinoa cupcakes and selling them on TikTok.


The rapid advancement of machine learning is poised to bring about even more significant shifts in the job market.


But talk of humanity being reduced to the role of a trussed-up gimp at the beck and call of machines is just scaremongering by the naysayers, according to the people who make the machines.


While innovations in AI have the potential to automate certain tasks, they can also create new opportunities, they tell us from their gated communities in space.


There will, after all, still be a need for human beings to clean the machines, switch them on and off and to ensure that the back-up oxygen generators in space are ready to be deployed when the main, AI-generated system responsible for keeping alive the final dregs of homo sapiens, fails.


However, before we lose faith altogether in the fate of mankind, it is worth remembering that we have been here before.


Roles that our ancestors believed would be here to stay were taken over by technology that, to us, seems as rudimentary as Piers Morgan’s thought processes.


Here are just a few of them:


Town Crier: In the days before newspapers and social media, town criers were the public messengers of their communities. Dressed in elaborate outfits and armed with booming voices, they would announce important news and proclamations. With modern communication technology, the town crier's role has faded into oblivion, replaced by news outlets and digital notifications.


Switchboard Operator: Before automated phone systems, switchboard operators were essential for connecting calls manually. They would plug and unplug wires to establish connections, a time-consuming and labor-intensive task. Today, phone operators have been replaced by computerized systems, rendering their jobs obsolete.


Ice Cutter: Before refrigeration, people relied on ice cutters to harvest and store ice from frozen lakes and rivers. This essential job supported the iceboxes and icehouses that preserved food. With the advent of electric refrigeration, ice cutters became an endangered species.


Elevator Operator: Elevator operators once manually controlled the doors and movements of elevators in high-rise buildings. The development of automatic elevators and advancements in technology have led to the phasing out of this profession.


Lamp Lighter: In the pre-electricity era, lamp lighters had the important duty of manually lighting and extinguishing street-lamps each evening and morning. The automation of street lighting has long since made this occupation obsolete.


Knocker-Up: In the days before alarm clocks and smartphones, people relied on "knocker-ups" to wake them up for work. These individuals would visit clients' homes and use long sticks to tap on windows, ensuring they started their day on time. Alarm clocks and digital wake-up calls have taken over this responsibility.


Milkman: Milk delivery used to be a daily occurrence, with milkmen making door-to-door deliveries of fresh milk in glass bottles. Today, we buy milk from supermarkets, and home milk delivery services have become a rarity.


Rat Catcher: Rat catchers were essential for urban environments plagued by vermin. Armed with traps and poisons, they helped control rat populations. Modern pest control methods and regulations have made this job largely redundant.


Water Carrier: Before the advent of indoor plumbing, water carriers would fetch water from wells and deliver it to homes. This gruelling task was labour-intensive and often done by children. Today, we turn on a tap to access clean water in our homes.


Scrivener: Before the typewriter and word processors, scriveners were tasked with writing, copying, and transcribing documents by hand. This painstaking occupation has disappeared with the rise of modern writing technologies.


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