Whether you’re an optimist when it comes to the automisation of industry (let’s all sunbathe while the robots do our dirty work!) or a pessimist (oh no, the robots are coming for our jobs!), rapid advances mean that new career opportunities are emerging in science, technology and related fields all the time. Here are six of the most intriguing tech jobs of the future that we think children with a STEM education – and those who are willing to specialise – might well find themselves doing in decades to come.
1. Satellite Designer
It’s not just Elon Musk’s SpaceX project and its enormous Falcon rockets that is injecting a new entrepreneurial spirit into space research. The mass production of miniature satellites such as the CubeSat format – 10 x 10 x 10cm units smaller than a coffee mug – are really the new frontier in low Earth orbit. One of the start-ups aiming to make this vision a reality is the Glasgow-based Alba Orbital, which has been producing similar satellites in the similar PocketQube specification since 2012. And if you’re interested in a career in space exploration, Glasgow is the place to be: the former shipbuilding capital of the world is now producing more satellites than any other city on earth.
2. 3D Printing Consultant
With seemingly unlimited applications, from car production lines to cutting-edge burger-flipping – and even fabricating human kidneys for organ transplants – 3D printing is already revolutionising design and manufacturing. But as with any disruptive technology, it’s likely to be seen as a dark art by conventional businesses for some time to come. That’s where the consultants come in. Companies like NFire Labs in Hull, who make bespoke printers to suit the needs of business and schools, and offer complete training and support services, are pioneers in the mission to make 3D printing accessible to everyone.
4. Blockchain Engineer
The rise of Bitcoin has got everyone used to the idea of digital currencies as a viable vehicle for transactions and investment. The technology behind it is known as blockchain – a system of digital accounting that has to keep track of currency units as they are distributed and exchanged among users, while being a cast-iron tamper-proof form of record-keeping. As such, the blockchain structure has many more applications beyond the virtual currency craze, including medical records, verifying food supply chains and voting. And supporting a new blockchain-secured information economy will be software engineers who can command a highly specialised skillset combining advanced cryptography, data science and maths.
5. Drone Traffic Controller
If recent trials by Amazon are an indication of things to come, delivery-by-drone is set to become a routine sight on our doorsteps as the century wears on. With the prospect of crowded city skies populated by hovering parcel-bots, though, the concept’s most testing challenge will be preventing the collisions that could turn this vision into an actual logistical nightmare. Enter aerial traffic management companies like Altitude Angel, which may have to expand their networked safety services and threat avoidance measures exponentially as the drone industry grows. Co-ordinating the army of coders, engineers and safety specialists needed to keep the overhead safety net in place, meanwhile, will be almost as complicated a task.
6. Haptics Engineer
Over recent years, virtual reality technology has broken out of the gaming world and is bringing immersive experience to all corners of life – not least the realm of day-to-day social communication, as users of the Oculus Rift app vTime have been discovering. Programmers specialising in VR are already in high demand, but one role likely to soar in kudos as the technology develops is the engineer who creates realistically felt encounters with seemingly solid objects in virtual space – an area otherwise known as ‘haptics.’ Bristol-based company Ultrahaptics is already immersed in this field, having developed a way for VR users to ‘feel’ virtual objects without having to wear special equipment on their bodies – technology they have literally pulled out of thin air.
7. Planetary Rewilder
As the decades progress, so the effects of humanity’s activities on the planet are likely to become more and more of a pressing issue. It’s feasible that large portions of the technology sector may end up engaged in efforts to reverse the damage caused by carbon emissions and deforestation – which could see an unlikely convergence between the tech industry and the nascent rewilding movement, which aims to restore areas that have been lost nature. One of the most ambitious projects seeding this field is the Oxford-based BioCarbon Engineering, which aims to deploy an armada of drones to plant a billion trees a year every year across the globe. And a project at that scale is going to need a lot of scientists, engineers and technology specialists to get it off the ground.
So far Chris Bourn has spent most of the 21st century writing and editing material on popular culture for print magazines – including The Face, Time Out London and Delayed Gratification. Latterly he has also been a proponent of digital journalism, as head of content for more than 30 of Time Out’s international editions and as editor of the sustainability-focused website Collectively (now known as Vice Impact). He is currently working as a freelance writer and editor between his other commitments (mainly school runs and changing nappies).