It's a bird! It's a plane! It's your pink slip!

Like the machines and assembly lines before them, drones are poised to drive many of us to the unemployment line

My editor needs to give me a bigger travel budget. Pammy thinks so, too, for reasons I don't quite understand but with enthusiasm that's disconcerting. I'm not so sad that I missed SXSW, but I regret not being able to attend DroneCon, otherwise known as the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, partly due to a panic attack brought on by a "60 Minutes" segment on the mushrooming drone industry.

Recently, Bill Gates was quoted warning the world that software and robotics will obviate the need for many blue collar jobs in the next 20 years.

Software substitution, whether it's for drivers or waiters or nurses, it's progressing. Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set[s]. Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don't think people have that in their mental model.

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I think he's right. But I also think there's more at stake than blue collar gigs, and drones -- not software -- will be the cause.

For one, there's the segment of the job market for which I have little sympathy: the intelligence community. Obviously, you need fewer spies if drones with silent propellers can sneak up to a citizen's window and snap a high-res pic of his indiscretions. I know what you're thinking: "Aww, poor spies -- too bad, so sad." But I think there are plenty of other jobs Gates hasn't considered.

Pilots, turn in your wings

Let's start with one that's rarely mentioned: pilots. Drones are exceedingly easy to operate, if you believe the manufacturers. What are highly trained pilots supposed to do if joystick-clutching, pizza-snarfing high school kids can get summer jobs as drone drivers working for everyone from Amazon to Dominos?

We need to consider all kinds of pilots, including those in the military. I agree with the general military principle of sending fewer pilots into harm's way, but that'll surely cut into Pentagon budget requirements for copter jockeys. It's a little like when IT companies publish press kits gushing about private and public clouds. They cite all the benefits of that technology but steer clear of mentioning that on-staff enterprise hardware and server IT pro jobs are likely to thin out faster than Tiger Woods' little black book. (Don't kid yourself, Tigger. Lindsey Vonn is a world-class athlete. She catches you with a stroke penalty, and a driver upside the noggin is going to feel like a therapeutic massage.)

Then again, I could be 180-degrees wrong and that particular gig may be in for a renaissance as long as you can upgrade your MCSE to an MCSE-D (Drone-capable). Get those skills, and you'll be on the cutting edge of drone-net management -- a hot job once wireless networking takes to the skies.

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