Most Americans say they don’t want help from robots

Uncovering and explaining how our digital world is changing — and changing us.

These days, robots can do a range of tasks from cleaning the floor to guarding a building. But the majority of Americans would rather not accept the help, according to a new survey from the Brookings Institution.

The survey found that, overall, 61 percent of U.S. adult internet users were either somewhat or very uncomfortable with robots. This comes despite the fact that consumer robotics are a rapidly growing industry, especially in toys and home care.

And for specific tasks, the majority of respondents said they weren’t interested:

Many researchers have found that it’s harder to automate tasks that involve human emotion and social skills. But what they’ve paid less attention to — and what surveys like this support — is that even when new technologies are able to partially automate these soft skills, there’s still a barrier of willingness to adopt the machine replacement.

“I think the care-taking part is going to take a bit more time for people to be comfortable with,” said Darrell West, Director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

That doesn’t meant people won’t change their attitudes as robots that handle social interactions become more sophisticated, capable and elegant. About half of those surveyed “believe within 30 years, robots will have advanced to the point where they can perform most of the activities currently done by humans,” according to the report. With robots, as with all change, people probably won’t know what they want until they see it.

Or when there simply aren’t enough humans to do the job. For example, Rodney Brooks, one of the cofounders of the company behind the Roomba, said he believes one of the most important impacts of robotics on our society will be in elder care.

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