Scott seethed at his father. He wanted to be a firefighter. That’s all he ever wanted to be. It started as a childish fantasy at six years old, but it persisted. Now at 18, he was ready to go to trade school, get his journeyman ticket, and after that, fire school.

He knew exactly which trade he wanted too: electrician. He knew which state school he wanted for training. It was all mapped out. He’d spent two years fine tuning his plan.

His father would have none of it. His plans were well thought out except for one thing: technology. He hadn’t considered technology. Scott stared at his father across the table with a single light illuminating the space between them.

“What are you talking about, Dad? People have been fighting fires for years. Just because your job was taken over by robots doesn’t mean mine will be.”

Jeremy pushed up his glasses. An ill-fitting pair that was always falling to the end of his nose. He couldn’t afford replacements. He’d planned on having Lasik surgery years ago, but the money was never there.

He sighed and stared across at his son, “I know you’re angry, but let’s try to stick to the facts here. I do have a job, and I wasn’t entirely replaced by robots. They still need journalists to go out there and find stories. People won’t talk to robots after all. They only do the writing. Anyway, that’s not the point. Look, I interviewed the head research scientist at Ohio Dynamics just last month. He told me they expect to have AI fireman ready to go within five years.”

“But Dad, robots can’t function in the intense heat of a building fire,” Scott replied. “They generate too much on their own. Just look at Clarence. All he does for us is cook and clean, but have you ever walked by him after a few hours? He could heat the whole house!”

“Be that as it may, I am telling you that firefighting as a profession is also over. They already have AI assistants calculating the most efficient way to defeat a fire, and what you’re talking about is an issue of materials and engineering. That work is already being done. Even if firefighting AI doesn’t happen in five years, it’ll happen in 10. Then what? You start training for a new profession? You’re out on your ass with nothing. Maybe a few months of unemployment insurance, a vague promise of retraining, and…”

Jeremy looked across the dark house. He could hear the whirring of Clarence as it recharged in the closet. He sighed again, took off his glasses and started polishing them. “If it wasn’t for the fact that your mother already owned this house…” His throat caught. He started down at the glasses in his hand and place them on the table.

Scott continued to glare at him. “I want to be a firefighter.”

Jeremy shook his head and looked back up at him. “And I’m telling you that we will not pay for that kind of education.”

“I don’t want to work in an office.”

“Fine,” Jeremy said raising his hands. “Most of the office jobs are gone anyway. Although I hear they still want a human touch in marketing. You could even freelance that way.”

“I am not a brand.”

Jeremy rubbed his hands over his eyes. Scott wasn’t listening to his words. AI was taking over more jobs every day. The boy couldn’t just pick what he liked. He had to hedge his bets on professions that were most likely to survive the next 20 years.

Firefighting was out. Ohio Dynamics and International Bionics were just two firms with that profession in their sights. In the name of human safety they were developing fireproof robots to deal with the few fires that happened every year.

The idea was to use lighter, levitating robots that would be able to map the fire and its likely trajectory, as well as scan for humans and animals trapped inside. Then the autonomous firefighting equipment would move in to fight the fire, while fireproof robots with paramedic programming would rescue the living or pull out the remains.

Jeremy hated the idea, but he knew it was a far superior solution to risking human lives to save other human lives, not to mention a better chance to reduce property damage. Scott would be out of a job before his 30th birthday, possibly his 25th.

© Ian Paul 2018