Why we explored humanity’s complicated relationship with robots

We’re increasingly relying on automation and artificial intelligence in everyday life. But we still don’t quite trust robots and fear they will take our jobs.

Humankind has a complicated relationship with robots. On one hand, we appreciate how they can do dangerous, repetitive work so we don’t have to. Robots don’t need vacations or medical insurance. And in areas such as agriculture, where farmers can’t find enough people to pick the produce, robots can shoulder (do they have shoulders?) some of those tasks. But polls show that the growing robotization of the planet makes us feel deeply uncomfortable—and threatened.

Pew Research Center surveys after 2017 found that more than 80 percent of Americans believed that by 2050, robots would do much of the work humans now do—and about 75 percent believed that would make economic inequality worse. Across lines of race, age, and education, people who said automation has hurt workers outpaced those who said it’s helped workers by two to one.

Of course, these surveys were taken before COVID-19, when replacing people with robots began to look like a highly practical answer to social distancing, no masks required.

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