America’s grudging acceptance of robots

Hoang NguyenData Journalist
August 02, 2017, 2:00 PM GMT+0

71% of citizens believe that robots will take away jobs but 66% believe that machines can’t do their job better than them

There are disparate views on the assimilation of robots into the job economy. A new YouGov poll reveals that the stigma against robots in the workplace might come from fear of the unknown. 78% of Americans have never seen a robot live or in person, and 60% of the general public has never interacted, operated, or worked with a robot. That fear – and this calculator that assesses the likelihood of a robot taking over your job – can lead to a pessimistic prediction of the future.

So what do Americans really think about robots? 71% believe that robots will take jobs away, and this sentiment is felt the most strongly in the Midwest (77%), where manufacturing is at the core of many American lives. But still, over 1 in 2 (55%) middle-aged Americans (45 being the average of a manufacturing employee) believe that robots will make life easier for most of us.

It doesn’t stop there though. 70% of Americans believe that robots can do things that humans can’t do, and again Midwesterners believe this stronger than most (77%). 3 in 4 Americans know that robots can do things that humans don’t want to do, something the Midwest also agrees with (81%). Lastly, most Americans acknowledge that robots are already incredibly useful in a number of areas, with people from the Midwest again believing this more than anyone else (81%).

When it comes to job confidence, 66% of Americans believe that a robot couldn’t do their job. The Midwest (68%) and South (74%) are the most confident of all the regions, while just 1 in 2 Americans living in the Northeast believe the same.

This might have to do with the dominant industries in the regions. YouGov’s database reveals that people living in the Midwest make up a majority of the manufacturing, religious/nonprofit services, and insurance workforce. Americans living in the South largely make up the construction, mining, oil, gas extraction, and government jobforce in America. As for the Northeast, Americans there constitute a majority of the research, personal care services, and media/digital technology jobs.

While most people aren’t comfortable with robots in factories or offices, a majority of them still want them for other reasons. The most popular? House cleaning.

59% of Americans want to see more than just little Roombas zooming around to keep their houses spot-free. 44% of the general population would also like robots to assist them in their work like retrieving tools or holding heavy things. It seems that Americans want machines to help in their work as much as possible without actually taking jobs away from them.

See full survey results here.