Rapidly evolving technology normally finds people in two main camps. The first group of people is excited for the development of robotics and see the future looking something like The Jetsons. The second group fears robotics and most technology. They think robots will take over the world (which, given some AI systems, could be a chance). This group firmly believes in I, Robot and 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, a new study shows that people in the second group have a greater chance of suffering anxiety and other related mental health issues.
Baylor University in Texas conducted the study. Researchers classified participants who hated technology as “technophobes”. These people feared automation more than romantic rejection, public speaking and even police brutality. Technophobes constituted more than a third of total participants.
“If you’re afraid of losing your job to a robot, you’re not alone,” said researcher Paul McClure, a sociologist in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. “This is a real concern among a substantial portion of the American population. They are not simply a subgroup of generally fearful people.”
So what technology did people fear?
They feared automation in the workforce, decision-making robots and artificial intelligence. They also feared any technology they didn’t understand. Not only did people fear the systems themselves, they also feared other humans who trusted technology to do work.
McClure also found that technophobes can be three times more likely to fear unemployment compared to others. They also fear financial insecurity three times as much. The technophobic crowd has a 95 percent greater odds of not being able to stop worrying, the report said. They’re 76 percent more likely to experience a pervading sense of dread.
Granted, it seems like even the brightest minds have expressed hesitancy towards automation. Business mogul and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban recently tweeted:
Automation is going to cause unemployment and we need to prepare for it. https://t.co/YEp5txG9aP
— Mark Cuban (@mcuban) February 20, 2017
There’s been plenty of discussion surrounding if sentient robots will deserve rights. Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking even noted that artificial intelligence will be “either best or worst thing” for humanity.
“Every aspect of our lives will be transformed. In short, success in creating AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization,” he said in October of last year.
The TOPIO 3 bipedal robot at a tennis match in 2009 [Image source: Wikipedia]
One man who seems onboard with the whole robotics revolution? SpaceX and Tesla’s Elon Musk. At his launch of Tesla in the United Arab Emirates, the eccentric tech genius said:
“Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence… It’s mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output.”
McClure points out that fearing technology isn’t new to the 21st century. He notes that 19th-century textile workers revolted against employers who mechanized cloth-making processes. However, this issue could span both blue and white collar jobs. Anyone who feels their job falls into a routine — from bank tellers to truck drivers — might have reason to fear technology.
“People in certain occupations may legitimately fear losing their jobs to robots and software that can work for cheaper and for longer hours than any human,” McClure said.
The full study can be found in Social Science Computer Review.