Robots are everywhere.

Enlarge / Robots are everywhere. (credit: NBC Universal)

There has been extensive public discussion of how automation may fundamentally change the job market, eliminating so many positions that some sort of universal income will be required. While the universal income discussion may be new, anxieties about machinery and automation replacing human work go back over a century, with worries growing with the advent of robotics and machine-learning algorithms.

In general, it's clear that people worry about jobs lost due to automation. But they tend to worry about job losses in general. To find out whether job losses due to automation produce a distinct set of worries, researchers did an extensive study to how people respond to job loss. It turns out they are concerned when other people are displaced by automation. But when it comes to themselves, they'd rather be displaced by an algorithm than a person.

Social concerns vs. social status

The researchers involved in the new work—Armin Granulo, Christoph Fuchs, and Stefano Puntoni—cite an extensive survey of European residents which showed that they tend to view robots as displacing human employment. This worry was true even for students and management employees, who aren't currently at risk of being replaced themselves. The researchers suggest there are two ways to interpret this. One is that this is based on personal worries that they may end up in a job that's vulnerable to automation, or it could be a more general pro-social view, driven by concern for other people losing their job.

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