Computer systems are becoming more and more embedded in everyday life. However, a new study, slated for publication in the April edition of the journal Computers and Human Behaviour, highlights “increasing reservations towards autonomous robotic systems in Europe.” In particular, scepticism surrounding robots in the workplace has significantly increased between 2012 and 2017 (1).
Robots are programmable machines capable of autonomously or automatically carrying out a complex series of actions. Some resemble human beings but most are designed with a focus on function rather than appearance. Artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics are already highly prevalent in the automotive industry, and robots are also being used as caregivers and to perform surgeries.
According to the authors, Prof Timo Gnambs from the University of Linz in Austria and Prof Markus Appel from the University of Würzburg in Germany, we are at the brink of a robotic era but public perception and attitudes will have an important influence on the adoption of new technologies.
The two researchers collected and analyzed data from the Eurobarometer ― a series of surveys launched by the European Commission to monitor the evolution of public opinion in all 28 EU Member States ― on the impact of digitisation and automation on daily life from 2012, 2014, and 2017. Their findings are based on a representative population consisting of 80,396 citizens from 27 European countries.
Each survey respondent was first presented with a general description of robots or machines for assisting people in everyday tasks, such as cleaning, or used in dangerous environments, like rescue missions or other high-risk tasks. In this case, robots were viewed in a relatively positive light. However, when respondents were given details of specific applications, such as robots performing surgeries or self-driving cars, the responses were more negative.
Moreover, the responses became more negative when people viewed robots doing ‘human’ jobs. This may be owing to the potential for job losses due to robotic systems, a topic that often appears in public discussions. Interestingly, countries with a larger proportion of older citizens viewed robots more favourably. Furthermore, Attitudes among men were more positive compared to women, and those in white-collar jobs also viewed automation more favourably.
Nonetheless, the research has identified an overall growing trend of scepticism towards robots in Europe, where it would seem the people are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with automation and the use of robots. This increasing European scepticism may mean new and potentially useful technologies could be rejected in the future. Therefore, the authors suggest these results should be a “warning sign” for politicians and businesses and the “motivation to counteract reasonable fears about our robotic future.”
According to the European Commission, “the more people are informed or use technologies the more they are likely to have a positive opinion on them and to trust them.” The survey findings along with these new results will hopefully guide future policy initiatives to help foster the implementation of automation and digitisation in Europe.
(1) Gnambs, T. and Appel, M. Are robots becoming unpopular? Changes in attitudes towards autonomous robotic systems in Europe. Computers in Human Behavior (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2018.11.045