More and more jobs are likely to be automated - and hence, fewer people will be needed to do them

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Want a secure job in the future? Don't compete with software.

Workers wanting secure employment in coming decades will need skills that complement software applications, rather than compete with them.

Those who don't possess such skills face a nearly-50 percent chance of having their occupations replaced by automation, according to two University of Oxford professors who studied technology's impact on employment over the last 500 years.

The career fields seen losing the most jobs include not just relatively low-skilled occupations such as telemarketing and retail sales, but also high-paying positions now held by accountants, auditors, budget analysts, technical writers and insurance adjusters, among others.

All of those jobs face at least an 85 percent chance of being automated, say Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne in their 2013 paper, "The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to Computerisation?"

The jobs most at risk all have one thing in common: they're in occupations "mainly consisting of tasks following well-defined procedures that can easily be performed by sophisticated algorithms," the pair wrote.

Even some highly-educated, technical occupations face relatively bleak chances of seeing growing employment in their field, as ever-smarter computers become better at analyzing massive amounts of data, to support all kinds of business decision-making.

Mathematicians, for example, face a 47 percent chance of seeing their jobs automated, the same percentage for all current occupations as a whole.

But there is a bright side to the new research out of Oxford, especially for those in occupations which software can't yet perform.

The jobs that will persist in the future include those that either take advantage of uniquely-human traits – such as manual dexterity, creativity and emotional intelligence – or that improve the lives of other humans directly in a face-to-face setting.

For example, dentists, nutritionists, athletic trainers, podiatrists, elementary school teachers and occupational, recreational and mental health therapists all have a less than 1 percent chance of being replaced by computer software, say Frey and Osborne.

For similar reasons, firefighters have a much lower chance of being replaced by software than pilots, even though the latter have arguably more technical skills.

The first occupation is relatively secure (at least for now) because no computer can yet determine in an instant whether to lead other humans into a deadly blaze or merely spray water on it instead.

Conversely, as drones spread from military to civilian business uses, there will be less of a need for human pilots, despite the quick thinking and bravery their occupation requires.

There's another, less academic way of seeing which occupations are most at risk of automation, of course.

That is to make a survey of industries that have already suffered job losses due to innovation from growing technology companies, then predict where they will innovate next.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, for example, has kept his company's sales growing for two decades thanks to rapid, frequent innovation.

New ideas such as using so-called server farms -- huge warehouses jammed with Internet servers – have allowed Amazon to compile and analyze large amounts of data on its customers' purchasing habits.

With that knowledge, Amazon has been able to tailor its users' online experiences and suggest similar purchases in the future.

Because of this kind of software-powered automation, sales growth in the books, music and movie businesses has moved online, just as sales of hotel rooms and plane seats are also doing, thanks to flourishing Web travel sites like Priceline.com.

Now that Amazon's Bezos has shown off the first of his planned delivery drones, the writing is on the wall for workers at freight companies such as FedEx and UPS.

Shipping clerks, for example, face a 98 percent chance of seeing their jobs automated, according to the Oxford University researchers.

The days of delivery drivers (and cabbies) are also numbered, thanks to Google's driverless cars and other automated vehicles of the future.

Likewise, as new real estate Web sites such as Zillow and Trulia create savvier buyers and sellers, they're reducing the need for professional market expertise.

Real estate appraisers and brokers, for example, both face a better-than-85 percent chance of future job losses.

Regardless of their industry, workers of the future should begin learning how to add value that complements software-powered automation, before their jobs are replaced by it.

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