Emerging Issues in Security

Are Security Jobs Safe from Automation?

As technology advances into new frontiers, the growing threat of job automation increases. But, what does that mean for security and security jobs?

Automation, robots replacing humans

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Technology is changing at a rate that some might consider to be an uncomfortable pace. As new technology evolves, so must occupations in the workforce. While devices and machines continue to shift, people are more concerned that their own job might be at risk to automation or computerization.

According to The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, an Oxford paper released in 2013, “about 47 percent of total US employment is at risk” for job computerization. Out of security positions sampled in this Guide, gaming surveillance officers and gaming investigators followed by security guards were listed among those with the highest probability of future labor computerization while computer systems analysts and first-line supervisors/managers of police and detectives were ranked among the lowest. “Occupations that involve complex perception and manipulation tasks, creative intelligence tasks, and social intelligence tasks are unlikely to be substituted by computer capital over the next decade or two,” the paper states.

In a recent NPR/Marist Poll released in January 2018, 94 percent of full-time and part-time workers in the United States surveyed said that they thought it is not very likely or not likely at all that their job will be lost to automation. But this optimism might be considered naïve. News sources point to how retailers, such as Amazon and Walmart, are attempting to speed up the sorting processes in company warehouses using machines that replace their human counterparts.

In January 2018, Amazon, the online shopping giant, opened to the public Amazon Go, its first convenience store. Amazon Go eliminates the use of cashiers and checkout lines, and instead uses an app through your smartphone to shop and purchase. “No lines, no checkout.” According to news sources, Amazon Go’s store includes heavy surveillance in the form of sensors. There is no mention of a physical security presence on Amazon Go’s webpage, but that doesn’t mean personnel are not still required to keep the other surveillance—in the form of electronic sensors and phone apps—running.

Does this mean that physical security, such as security guards, is on the way out?

Those concerned about automation in the physical security field can take comfort in the widely reported story about Knightscope K5, a security robot, that went viral in 2017 after it accidentally tumbled down some stairs into a decorative fountain while on patrol. K5 demonstrates that automation isn’t a perfect solution for security and that the need for human guards persists—at least for now. In the future, though, it’s possible that unmanned robotics will provide regular and reliable roving patrols in bad neighborhoods, detecting activity, and alerting security personnel in the field in real time. These robots could help maintain a security presence and lower the risk to officers responding to dangerous situations.

According to Mark Rockwell, a senior staff writer at the FCW, drones—unmanned aerial systems—helped with the recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey by going where local emergency personnel were not able to go. The operations were, in effect, safer and more efficient for people involved in the recovery efforts. Still, these aerial machines had to be coupled with workers in fire and police departments as well as other essential emergency management personnel.

In December 2016, during President Barack Obama’s administration, the White House released a report, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy. The report, designed to prepare the nation for a future in which artificial intelligence (AI) plays a growing role, examines the expected impact of AI-driven automation on the economy, and it describes broad strategies that could increase the benefits of AI and mitigate its costs.

Automation occurs when a machine does work that might previously have been done by a person. The term relates to both physical work and mental or cognitive work that might be replaced by AI,” according to the White House report. The report goes on to state that while automation will substitute some jobs as it has throughout history, in some cases a machine will complement human work. This complementary work is happening now in terms of security and technology—in security detail robots, drones, and retail online and convenience stores.

What are we to take away from all of this? Is your job at risk of automation or computerization?

While no one seems to have a crystal ball on the subject, it’s clear that to protect your job in the security field, you must act to sustain your occupation through education, training, retraining, and certification. The more valuable you make yourself, the more likely is it that a computer won’t be able to do what you can do.