How Americans view the rise of automation

Peter Terlato 4 October 2017

Are you concerned that robots might take your job?

Although most Americans hold a generally positive view of technology, a new research report reveals rising concerns surrounding emerging automation technologies and the effects robotics could have on US jobs.

The results from a Pew Research Center survey conducted in May 2017 examined Americans’ attitudes towards workplace automation, driverless cars, robot caregivers and computer algorithms used to judge job applicants.

Respondents were more than twice as likely to express worry (72%) about emerging automation technologies than they were to convey enthusiasm (33%) for them, particularly with regards to employment.

Most adults surveyed were also three times as likely to express worry (67%) than they were to communicate enthusiasm (22%) for machine-generated algorithms that could assess potential job worthiness.

However, while the majority of American adults worry (54%) about the development of driverless vehicles, a significant proportion asserted enthusiasm (40%) for the advancement of automated transport options.

Additionally, Americans hold a much more balanced view towards the introduction of robot caregivers.

Despite this higher tolerance, around six in ten adults admitted they wouldn’t want to ride in a driverless vehicle (56%) or make use of a robot caregiver for themselves or a family member (59%).

Three quarters of respondents said they wouldn’t want to apply for a job determined by a computer (76%).

The research also discovered that a healthy proportion of Americans believe it’s at least somewhat likely that fast food workers (77%) and insurance claims processors (65%) will be replaced by robots in their lifetime.

Most adults also expect software engineers (53%) and legal clerks (49%) jobs will be handled by machines too.

However, less than one third (30%) of respondents believe their own jobs will be at risk during their lifetime.

Despite the apprehension and anxiety surrounding emerging technologies, only a small proportion of adults said they had lost their job, or had their wages or hours reduced, as a result of automated interference (6%).

If robots and computers are made intelligent enough to perform most jobs carried out by humans today, the overwhelming majority of Americans suggest limiting their capabilities to dangerous or unhealthy tasks (85%).

Many respondents also support a federal guaranteed income initiative (60%) or national service plan (58%).

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