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Is Your Job Really Robot-Proof? A Look Around Ohio

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Marketplace/David Brancaccio
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Sandusky Police Officer Bronson Lillo is one of the people profiled in David Brancaccio's series on "robot-proof" jobs.

The ear of a composer. The discretion of a judge or police officer. No matter how good computers and automation get, there are just some jobs that humans want occupied by other humans.

But are those jobs really "robot-proof" forever?

That was the subject before David Brancaccio as he and his team at Marketplace Morning Report scoured Ohio and several surrounding states in their series "Robot-Proof Jobs."

The project is an about-face for Brancaccio, who in 2012 toured the country talking to people who lost their jobs to automation.

So, who among us can rest assured that we won't be replaced by a motherboard and a few lines of code?

"We’re not going to be getting RoboCops any time soon," Brancaccio says.

Brancaccio says his interviews and data from a consulting firm show there are just some jobs that computers still aren't good at - like policing.

"(Humans know ) when you’re supposed to write a ticket, or if the person who’s just been stopped is running home for a family emergency, you don’t give a ticket," Brancaccio says. "It’s stuff like that that computers are not very good at.”

While police officers may be safe, a 2016 report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. says automation could assume 45 percent of the work duties currently performed by humans in the U.S. The firm also says 60 percent of all occupations could see a third or more of their activities automated.

Brancaccio says another profession that appears safe from the robot invasion, at least for now, is of composer.

While music production software have simplified - to an extent - the process of making music, there’s still an indelible quality to the human ear and brain.

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Credit Marketplace/David Brancaccio
Tom Lopez is a composer and Associate Professor of Computer Music and Digital Arts at Oberlin College.

While in Ohio, Brancaccio caught up with Tom Lopez, a composer at Oberlin College. Lopez recounted a project where he was asked to set music to an art piece that included a deflated sofa, which Lopez thought was meant to evoke feelings of “household drudgery."

“There’s no piece of technology, now or ever, that will figure out something at that level of subtlety," Lopez says.

But does ever really mean forever? Brancaccio says his reporting was meant to focus on the near future, not “Star Trek time” eons away.