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The next time you're at the Renaissance Faire and you see the blacksmith and saddle maker toiling away at their quaint jobs, try to remember that once upon a time those were common, everyday careers. And then take a moment to realize that a lot of the iconic jobs that have been part of our lives since birth will, before long, go the way of the blacksmith.

We're talking about jobs like...

Fighter Pilots

The Job:

Say you're at a party and somebody asks you what you do for a living. There is no answer you can give that will impress people more than "jet fighter pilot." Maybe astronaut. But basically if you show up at a cocktail party full of kickboxers, CIA agents, race car drivers and Richard Braonson, and tell them you're a jet fighter pilot, you'll be the center of attention. It's been the sexiest job in the world ever since somebody figured out how to make deadly aircraft that can go a thousand miles an hour while shitting fire.

Though we can also thank Tom Cruise.

Your grandchildren, however, will look at Top Gun the way we look at movies about the Old West. Among military types there is a saying: "The last fighter pilot has already been born."

The Replacement:

There is one huge limitation in our badass jet fighters, and that is the soft, squishy human it carries in the cockpit. Remove that weakness, and you can build a machine that can fly faster, turn harder and generally be the Terminator to current fighter jets' Edward Furlong.

We're not talking about remote control drones, either--though they're becoming more and more popular for the same reason. We're talking about robotic fighters. The Ministry of Defense in the UK recently unveiled the most advanced one of these, called a UCAV or the Uncrewed Combat Aerial Vehicle.

Right now, the plane is limited. It is able to run only missions that are preprogrammed into its system. And while it can spot targets, it can take them out only if it requests permission and permission is granted from a human (that all might sound pretty comforting if it weren't for the fact that drone aircraft can and have gone AWOL). The point is, it turns out more than five people should have gone to see the movie Stealth because it was about the inevitable future: The US Air Force put out a report last year outlining how they could replace every damned aircraft they own with flying robots in the next 40 years.

It's definitely a good idea to remove "conscience" from the mix when dealing with giant missiles.

Beyond the fact that modern militaries are less and less tolerant of losing troops because of the political backlash that comes with it, there are just physical limitations at play: A soft human body can only withstand about 5 g's (that is, five times the force of gravity) before losing consciousness. A trained pilot, with a special suit, can maybe get up to 9 or 10. Aircraft designers have to start from the premise that too many barrel rolls will leave the pilot bleeding from the eyes.

But take out that limitation and they can start drawing up a radical new plane whose performance is limited by the strength of titanium and carbon fiber, rather than the tiny blood vessels in a human brain. If nothing else it should make air shows of the future way more awesome.


The Job:

For some of you, being the lifeguard at the local pool was a perfect summer job. For others--namely, those who still have Baywatch on DVD--the job appears frequently in masturbation fantasies.

"Quick, I need to resuscitate this teenage boy! With my boobs."

So, there's a reason it's encoded into our DNA that the best way to get to first base with a half naked, tanned, attractive person is to fake drowning. But it won't be true much longer.

The Replacement:

Meet EMILY, the lifeguard of the future which despite its name is neither a girl nor half naked and attractive.


EMILY (EMergency Integrated Lifesaving lanYard) is a robotic talking buoy designed to seek out drowning victims and ferry them back to shore. It uses sonar to detect the motion typically associated with people who are potentially drowning and then zooms out after them at up to 28mph, which is way faster than the guy on the lifeguard stand.

It communicates back to a lifeguard on shore, who can speak through EMILY's radio to try to calm the person in distress. The person grabs hold and is then pulled to the comparative safety of hot sand and angry fiddler crabs.

While EMILY isn't completely automated yet, it will be patrolling the surf on its own by the end of the year. A couple of decades from now, your swimming children will be watched by a lifeguard who can see farther, swim faster and never get tired or bored or distracted. Those children won't know a "lifeguard" as anything other than a self-paddling red floating buoy, and any kid who fantasizes about that is a burgeoning serial killer.

In the future, this man will just have to make do as a creepy beach pervert.

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The Job:

Everyone who was ever a child wanted to be a firefighter--and that's even more true for those born in the last decade. You get to drive around a giant red truck that makes a shitload of noise and then jump out and spray a giant hose onto buildings crumbling beneath a roaring inferno. You climb up ladders and save people, and possibly chop through a door with a fucking ax.

"Sorry sir, I need to ax you something. Ahah. Laugh or I won't save your family."

It's no wonder firefighters are a sort of Norman Rockwell-esque symbol of American values who are generally admired by the entire community, unlike, say, the police (to our knowledge, there's never been a rap song called "Fuck the Fire Department"). It's a job that symbolizes selflessness, courage and badassery. America.

So America.

The Replacement:

You need all of those qualities because the job is dangerous as hell; Dozens of firefighters die every year in the US alone. The fireman of the future--the near future--is going to be a robot for the same reason bomb squads use robots: because having a human being get anywhere near that situation is insane.

That's why the British have started developing their own crack firefighting robot team. Their team consists of an Iraqi war vet robot named Talon, a water-shooting, metal gripping robot named Bison, a firefighter-hose-firing robot named Black Max and a tank-lifting robot named Brokk. The robot team is currently used only to take out acetylene gas fires, at which it has been extraordinarily effective.

Fine, it makes sense that a machine can cut through a wall and pump in water. But what about all that heroic shit firefighters have to do? Carrying unconscious women to safety and all that?

Well, you may have heard of or seen those "caterpillar" bots that were used to clean up the wreckage and save people after 9/11. Those particular units were not very advanced, but the technology has been steadily moving forward. Recently a snakelike rescue-bot was developed in South Korea, just under an inch across and up to 26 feet long. The robot is designed to crawl through hard-to-reach spots in collapsed debris and locate injured people hidden in the rubble, sending pictures back to the rescuers outside.

Of course, at that point the actual saving of the victims still needs to be done by the human rescuers, right? Well, that or you could leave it to a robot like Robokiyu, currently used by the Tokyo fire department.


So, yeah, within a few generations we might see firefighters reduced to pencil pushers and engineers who sit back while the robots do all of the dangerous work. We'll be left with millions of children wondering why the hell anyone would've ever wanted to be a fireman when he grew up.


The Job:

That's right: The machines are threatening to take away even the non-sexy occupations.

But sexy or not, a trip to the eye doctor was a big part of growing up for a lot of us. It's when we got a prescription for a pair of glasses and tried to select the least nerdy-looking frame to minimize the amount of shit beaten out of us when we wore them to school. It's one of those childhood rites of passage that we spend so much time obsessing over until the day we grow up and realize that in the working world, nobody gives a damn if you're wearing glasses or not unless you're a superhero in disguise.

Feathered hair and a leather jacket are also part of the disguise.

The Replacement:

Those of you with glasses or contacts, think about the last time you went to the optometrist. What exactly did he or she actually do? They have a bunch of machines where an assistant checks you for cataracts or whatever, then the actual eye doctor has you look into a machine and you tell him whether or not you can see with various lenses. Then he writes down a number and they either feed it into a machine that spits out some lenses, or a lady at the counter grabs some contacts off the shelf. We're not looking to insult the eye doctors of the world but come on. These aren't exactly House-style medical mysteries here.

It doesn't take a million-dollar robot to do the job, either. Consider the smart phone app called NETRA, which stands for Near-Eye Tool for Refractive Assessment. It aims to replace your local optometrist with a plastic lens phone attachment. The device is quite similar to the normal optometrist tool, except that it lets the user adjust the focus of the image on his own without the need of a Ph.D.-laden middleman.

Multitasking: getting an eye exam and mono.

After you stare into the lens for a few minutes, your prescription will be read out for you. Then you just take the prescription to your nearest vision center and get your glasses made while your optometrist sits around flipping through magazines.

Or, don't get off the sofa at all. Stare into your phone for a few minutes while Baywatch Nights is on a commercial break, get your prescription and place an order with an online eyeglass store, then wait a day for your glasses to arrive in the mail. It takes only slightly less effort to order a pizza, or more effort if you have a really difficult time deciding what kind of pizza to order.

Hi, Papa Johns? My iPhone says I like gross pizza.

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The Job:

Maids are awesome. If you pay them, they will clean your house top to bottom no matter how far along its stage of decay may be. Sometimes they're the wacky live-in type who offer sage advice, like Alice on The Brady Bunch or Tony Danza in Who's the Boss?, in which case their value is twofold. Sometimes they're the fatherly, secret identity-protecting type like Alfred Pennyworth. And sometimes they're the sexy French maid, an idea that is so ingrained in our consciousness that if you're a woman and you dress as one this Halloween, everyone will immediately assume you're looking to get laid.

You're going to want to make that a double knot.

The Replacement:

Marhu-Z is a Korean device that has two arms, six fingers, and two horrifying eyes, and looks vaguely like Johnny-5 and Rosie from The Jetsons ran into each other really fast.

I have no speakers but I must scream.

Marhu-Z can detect when jobs need to be done. For example, it can tell when your laundry needs to be done, when the dishes need to be cleaned, and whether or not your blood stained sheets need burning. It can cook food in the microwave and set it on the table, and pick up all the random crap you leave around the house and put it away.

Marhu-Z isn't being developed for commercial use at the moment, and in fact it's developers envision it performing slightly more important tasks than vacuuming Cheetos out of your carpet, such as operating machinery on the moon. It offers no wisdom and has no sexy features of any kind, which honestly is the only useful thing about a French maid.

Sure she's attractive, but she's not getting any work done, is she?

Meanwhile, similar devices are being developed in Japan, and the only thing between us and having the Jetsons maid is getting the costs down.

Garbage Men

The Job:

Garbage men are another symbol of blue collar America, performing an indispensable duty and receiving little to no respect for it. Every week we take our garbage can out to the curb and leave it overnight and the next morning everything inside it is gone, sort of like when you leave cookies and milk out for Santa. The day to day life of everyone in the country literally could not function without garbage men.

Drown in your own filth!

The name of the garbage man is also frequently invoked by parents attempting to correct the course of a kid failing his math class, as in, "If you don't do well in school, you're going to end up being a garbage man." So really, the profession is more commonly used as a threat than as something to aspire to.

The Replacement:

DustCart, a mobile garbage collecting robot, has recently been developed in Europe and undergone an extended test run in a small Italian village. Basically, the robot is assigned to a certain number of households that can call on it at any time, and it comes zooming up so you can cram all your bullshit inside of it to be hauled away.

The technology is still in its infancy, and the current model could never survive in a city environment (presumably because it's just too tempting for people to climb on and ride it around). But the consequences could be amazing if (when) systems like this become common.

Imagine a robotic garbage collector you call at your convenience, as many times as you want and even several times a day. Flesh-and-blood garbage men will be about as commonplace as professional witch hunters, and the "you'll grow up to be a garbage man" threat will just be baffling and nonsensical, unless your child is a cyborg.

For more jobs that we still have but wish were gone, check out 6 Dream Jobs That Would Actually Suck. Or learn about some positions you should be glad are gone, in The 6 Worst Jobs Ever (Were Done by Children).

And stop by Linkstorm to see which columnist was a stripper firefighter before he started working for Cracked.

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