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Trust a robot to do your baking? How about in the next 13 years…

Opinion, 06 June 2017
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A third of Brits expect robots to run their lives in the next 13 years, yet just 2% of respondents would trust a robot with their children. Rachel Forde of Mediavest | Spark asks why humans have such a problem trusting robots.

Googling 'buy a robot' doesn't exactly lead to surprising results. Whether you're a company, an educational institute, or just a person, you'll have four times as many options to trawl through compared to a search for a simple chocolate brownie recipe.

But while most of us like a decent brownie, not everyone's happy for a robot to sit around the family table. A recent research project highlighted just how much of a spectrum there is when it comes to accepting and trusting robots.

Looking at the challenge to accept this new tech, we're more than underway. We found one in three Brits expect robots to rule our lives in the next 13 years, with the number jumping to almost two in three if we extend that to 2050. But with Amazon's Alexa already on birthday present lists and voice recognition robots on sale for as little as £50, its surprising we don't expect this to happen sooner.

It could be because we're just not ready yet to give robots what they really need to become part of the household furniture; and that's trust. Despite all the innovation, leading tech minds on the case, and proof of what robots can do for us, there's a glass ceiling when it comes to what we'll trust robots with.

Take chores, for example. Out of the people we spoke to, more than two thirds would most trust a robot to do simple household tasks (68%) and DIY (30%). In contrast, a whopping 98% wouldn't be happy to leave their children with one.

We could safely assume it's the look and/or feel of robots that contributes to this invisible line of trust we're struggling to get past. We want them feel somewhat familiar, but not so much so that they compete or can be compared to us. On this, our research found that although half the people we surveyed would give their robot a human name, the same number don't want their robot looking like one.

The humanistic aspect of robots is perhaps one that makes them so intriguing. We've basically built prototypes of our own race that completely eliminate the chance of human error. As we become ever more reliant on technology at work and at home, we inevitably are less accepting of this margin even though it's probably decreasing.

This is an area that contrasted sharply with our research. We found half the population would be wary of a robot flying a plane and a third wouldn't want one driving their car. That's with all the fearful flyers and news of car crashes we see reported most days. Considering the motor and aviation industries have invested massively in automation, you have to question whether it's the physical presence of a human-looking robot that makes us nervous, rather than a virtual auto-pilot system or a voice activated box in the corner?

Either way, what's certain is that the current pace of change won't drop off. We should expect more products like Alexa to hit our online shelves, and while they might not be a full blown 5 ft robot doing our dishes, make no mistake, if we can find a way to get a robot to do our ironing, we will.

Alexa: More than a household name Find out how Amazon is seeking to embed this  AI system into all types of devices, reinforcing the company's vision that

About the author

Rachel Forde is chief executive of Mediavest UK. Previously, she was managing director of P&G United for Starcom Mediavest Group.

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