The Strategist

Nobody likes robots: polls show growing skepticism

01/25/2019 - 11:52

According to psychologists, the public attitude to robots and artificial intelligence is changing for the worse: most Europeans, in principle, are not against them, but categorically object to the machines having any influence on their daily lives.

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Robots are quickly moving from science fiction to people daily lives. On average, there are already more than 70 robots per 10,000 industrial workers in the world, and this figure reaches 500 in South Korea and Germany. It is simply impossible not to encounter them if you live in these countries and are socially active. As robots become more familiar, the attitude towards them among the general public must inevitably change. However, “familiar” does not mean “pleasant” at all. Two psychology professors, Timo Gnambs from Austria and Markus Appel from Germany, decided to find out how the perception of robots in Europe changed from 2012 to 2017. The results of their research are published in the latest issue of Computers in Human Behavior in an article with a provocative title: “Are robots becoming unpopular?”

The researchers analyzed data from the Eurobarometer project, which represents results of European surveys on major issues of public life. The project includes data from 80,000 respondents from 27 European countries.

Here is the overall result of the study: attitude to robots for five years has changed markedly in a negative direction. The interview of each respondent consisted of several stages. At first, the respondent was told that a robot is a device that helps a person in his daily life (for example, cleaning robots). Sometimes they were explained that robots can perform important functions in conditions that are too dangerous or harmful to humans. At this stage, the respondents rated the robots positively as a whole.

However, the situation changed dramatically when robots were presented as creatures from which a person may be dependent - for example, robotic surgeons, medical robots monitoring a patient’s condition, or artificial intelligence driving unmanned vehicles. Here the negative was quite noticeable and significantly better pronounced than five years ago. Thus, Europeans are ready to put up with robots as long as they remain an abstract concept far from them, but do not welcome them in their daily life if a robot performs a definite and irreplaceable function there.

Further, it turned out that industrial workers and people engaged in physical labor treat to robots much worse than office workers. Men are a little more sympathetic to cars than women.

The most curious fact is dependence of the attitude towards robots on the respondents’ age. In countries with the largest proportion of older people, the attitude towards robots turned out to be better than where there are more young people. In the light of the above, this can be interpreted as follows: those who are most likely not to encounter them in their future activities are more willing to accept the robots.

Researchers believe that their results should alert politicians and entrepreneurs. The growth of social negative can not only slow down the progress, but also means that many of the new technologies will not be accepted by society at all and will not occupy the expected place in the market.