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We need to discuss which jobs to assign to robots, before the decision is made for us

Society now faces an increasing number of decisions about our relationship with technology. For example, do we want our workforce needs to be met by automation, migrant workers or an increased birth rate?

By Thaha Rajendran, Professor of Psychology, The National Institute, Heriot-Watt University, UK

Robots work in a dangerous area. The image was created using Midgerani's ATSSY software. Definitions: Avi Blizovsky
Robots work in a dangerous area. The image was created using Midgerani's ATSSY software. Definitions: Avi Blizovsky

The social distancing imposed by the pandemic has led us to rely on technology to a degree we might not have imagined – from Teams and Zoom to online banking and vaccination status apps.

Now, society faces an increasing number of decisions about our relationship with technology. For example, do we want our workforce needs to be met by automation, migrant workers or an increased birth rate?

In the coming years we will also have to balance technological innovation with the well-being of the people - both in terms of the work they do and in terms of the social support they receive.

And there is the question of trust. When should humans trust robots, and vice versa, is a question that a multidisciplinary team we established (Trust Node Team) Researcher as part of UKRI's Trusted Autonomous Systems Centre. We want to better understand human-robot interactions - based on the individual's tendency to trust others, the type of robot and the nature of the task. This project and similar projects can eventually help to design robots.

This is an important time to discuss the roles we want robots and artificial intelligence to perform in our shared future - before decisions are made that may prove difficult to reverse. One way to frame this dialogue is to think about the different roles that robots can play.

Robots as our servants

The word "robot" was first coined by the Czech writer and playwright Karl Chapek, in his 1920 science fiction play Rossum's Universal Robots. It comes from the word "robota", which means routine and tedious manual work. This etymology comes from the premise that robots exist to do work that humans prefer not to do. Therefore, there shouldn't be any controversy, for example, on the priority of using robots for the maintenance of nuclear power plants or the repair of offshore wind farms.

However, some service tasks assigned to robots are more controversial, as they can be perceived as taking jobs away from humans.

For example, research shows that people who have lost movement in their upper limbs can benefit from robot-assisted dressing. But this can be seen as an automation of tasks that nurses perform today. Equally, it may free up time for nurses and nursing workers - the sectors that currently suffer from a severe shortage of personnel - to focus on other tasks that require more sophisticated human input.

authority figures

The dystopian film "RoboCop" from 1987 imagined the future of law enforcement as autonomous, privatized and delegated to cyborgs or robots.

Today, some elements of this vision are not so far-fetched: the San Francisco Police Department has considered deploying robots—albeit under direct human control—to kill dangerous suspects.

But placing robots as figures who receive authority in matters of life and death requires consideration, as studies have shown that humans may place excessive trust in them.

In one experiment, a "fire robot" was assigned to evacuate people from a building during a simulated fire. All 26 participants obediently followed the robot, even though half had previously seen the robot perform poorly in a navigation task.

Robots as our companions

It is hard to imagine that a human-robot connection will have the same quality as between humans or with a pet. However, increasing levels of loneliness in society may mean that for some people, a non-human companion is better than nothing.

The Faro robot is one of the most commercially successful companion robots to date - and it's designed to look like a baby seal. However, research shows that the more human-like a robot is, the more we trust it.

Stopping a robot

Research has also shown that different areas of the brain are activated when humans interact with another human or a robot. This suggests that our brains may recognize interactions with a robot differently from human interactions.

Creating useful robotic companions involves a complex interplay of computer science, engineering and psychology. A robotic pet may be ideal for someone who is physically unable to take a dog for their exercise. It can also detect falls and remind the patient to take their medication.

However, how we deal with social isolation raises questions for us as a society. Some will see efforts to "solve" loneliness through technology as the wrong solution to this common problem.

What can robotics and artificial intelligence teach us?

Music is a source of interesting observations about the differences between human and robotic talents. Making mistakes, as humans do all the time, but robots might not, seems an essential component of creativity.

A study by Adrian Hazard and his colleagues pitted professional pianists against an autonomous Disclabeer (an automatic piano with keys that move as if played by an invisible pianist). The researchers found that the pianists ended up making mistakes. But they did so in ways that were interesting to humans listening to the show.

This concept of "aesthetic failure" can also be applied to the way we live our lives. It offers a powerful counter-narrative to the idealistic and perfectionist messages we constantly receive through television and social media—about everything from appearance to careers and relationships.

As a species, we are approaching many crossroads, including how to respond to climate change, gene editing, and the role of robotics and artificial intelligence. However, these dilemmas are also opportunities. Artificial intelligence and robotics can reflect our less attractive characteristics, such as gender and racial biases. But they can also free us from drudgery and highlight unique and attractive qualities, such as our creativity.

We're in the driver's seat when it comes to our relationship with robots – nothing is set in stone yet. But to make informed and informed decisions, we must learn to ask the right questions, starting with what do we actually want robots to do for us?

For an article in The Conversation

More of the topic in Hayadan:

One response

  1. Many technologies were opposed for fear that they would take work away from humans.

    The claim that new professions were created does not prevent the injury because:

    A. Time passes between the loss of the old professions and the creation of new ones.

    B. The new professions are not necessarily available to the population that lost their income because the required training and abilities are different.

    In any case, it's an idle debate because at least I don't know of a case where the technology stopped. It will always be the state that enables development. Probably most countries if not all

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