Skepticism against robots growing in Europe, new study

Skepticism towards robots
Great minds like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk publicly expressed their concerns about the future of robots and AI.

European skepticism against robots was greater in 2017 than in 2012, say researchers. Today, we have robots as caregivers (UK: carers), performing surgery, and in the automotive industry. While they are well established in some areas, in others, robots are on the rise.

Two researchers, Timo Gnambs and Markus Appel, gathered and analyzed data from the Eurobarometer. They focussed on the years 2012, 2014, and 2017. The Eurobarometer is a representative survey on themes that currently matter to people. The researchers’ findings are based on 80,396 citizens from twenty-seven European nations.

Gnambs and Appel wrote about their study and findings in the journal Computers in Human Behavior (citation below). Prof. Dr. Gnambs is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Linz in Austria. Prof. Dr. Markus Appel is a Professor (Chair) at the University of Würzburg’s Department of Psychology of Communication and New Media in Germany.

The number of robots in our everyday lives has been rapidly increasing over the past few years. So, how do most of us feel about them? Are we generally for or against robots? According to this study,  in Europe, we are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with them.

What is a robot?

A robot is a machine that we can program. We program it to do specific tasks. Some robots look like humans, while others don’t.

Skepticism about robots in the workplace

People’s skepticism about robots in the workplace, especially, has increased. Perhaps this is because many of us fear that robots will take our jobs. Maybe some of us have already seen job losses due to robots, AI, and automation. AI stands for artificial intelligence.

The study – interviews

In this study, interview respondents first saw a general description of robots. The description portrayed robots as machines that can help us with everyday activities, such as cleaning.

The description also included robots working in dangerous environments. In other words, working in places that were too dangerous for humans, such as search and rescue missions.

When asked to judge robots, the respondents seemed keen.

The respondents’ evaluations became more negative when they saw robots doing ‘human’ jobs, such as, for example, caring for people. They also saw robotic surgery and self-driving cars.

According to a University of Würzburg press release:

“It seems that Europeans are relatively positive about robots as long as they have a more or less theoretical concept in mind. They are increasingly critically when the robot is specified and personal interactions appear imminent.”

The authors also found that skepticism was greater among women than men. In other words, men tended to view robots more positively than women.

They also found that white-collar workers had more positive attitudes towards robots than their blue-collar counterparts. White-collar refers to office work or non-manual work. Blue-collar relates to manual work, particularly in industry. A miner, for example, is a blue-collar worker, while a secretary is a white-collar worker.

Surprisingly, the study found a more positive attitude towards robots in countries with a high proportion of older adults.

Growing skepticism – a warning sign

Overall, there has been an increase in skepticism against robots in Europe from 2012 to 2017. The authors say that politicians and businesses should take their findings as a warning sign. They hope their study will encourage businesses and lawmakers to take measures to address these fears.

If European skepticism continues, these new technologies may be rejected later on. Growing skepticism might even mean that robots don’t prevail.

Citation

Are robots becoming unpopular? Changes in attitudes towards autonomous robotic systems in Europe,” Timo Gnambs and Markus Appel. Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 93, April 2019, Pages 53-61. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.11.045.