The next hot job: Pretending to be a robot

Until the techno-utopian dream of full automation comes into effect—and frankly, there’s no guarantee that will ever happen—there will be plenty of jobs for humans, just not ones their parents would recognize. Whether the humans in charge are in the same city or thousands of miles away, the proliferation of not-yet-autonomous technologies is driving a tiny but rapidly growing workforce.

Mimi Kongnarinh started on the night shift at Cobalt Robotics, patrolling the offices mostly of other tech and some manufacturing companies. Her work would be familiar to any night watchperson from the last century—chatting up familiar employees, introducing herself to fresh faces and keeping a wary eye out for anything out of the ordinary.

What made her job unusual is that she would patrol multiple offices simultaneously, and that for most of her eight- to 12-hour shift, she never left her desk in San Mateo, Calif. By remotely monitoring her largely autonomous robot charges, she was able to add a human touch when necessary—such as politely asking unfamiliar employees to badge in on the robot’s scanner—while also keeping down her employer’s labor costs.