Visions of a utopic society, where robots do all the work while humans enjoy all the leisure, have largely come and gone.
Developments in genetics, artificial intelligence and robotics mean that robots could instead destroy livelihoods across vast swathes of the population, with recent research suggesting that about 45% of the activities people are paid to do could be automated over the next few decades.
However, new data from YouGov Omnibus suggest that Hongkongers are cautiously optimistic about the impact of robots on society. Overall, three-quarters of Hongkongers believe that robots will make our lives easier and eight in ten agree that robots can do things humans don’t want to do.
More than seven in ten Hong Kongers would like a robot to do their cleaning
Most Hong Kongers are happy to welcome robots into their lives, with just one in twenty saying they would not want a robot.
Out of a list of 12 possible functions, the most popular use for a robot is to help with cleaning the house, which 73% of respondents would want. Other popular choices include assistance at work (chosen by 61% of respondents) and security (selected by 56%).
Women and men appear to be in broad agreement about the use of robots for household chores such as cleaning the house, gardening and carrying things. However, they are more divided about the use of robots for security (62% of men would want a robot for security, whereas 50% of women do) and driving (40% of men would want to robot to help with driving, while 31% of women would want the same).
One in eight believe a robot would do their job better than them
Despite being able to see the benefits that robots could bring, Hongkongers also recognise the threat they pose to people’s employment prospects; two-thirds of Hongkongers believe that robots will take jobs away from many of us. However, many do not currently feel personally threatened by robots in the workplace, with only one in eight believing that a robot would be better than them at their job.
Younger generations are less certain of their place at work. Only 29% of those aged 18-29 think that a robot would not be better than them at their job, while 46% of those over 45 do. Those under 45 are also more likely to think that a robot could do their job at least as well as them. Six in ten 18-29 year olds believe a robot could do their job either the same as or better than them. This is true for 51% of 30-44 year olds and 46% of over 45s.
With robots set to shake up our economy there is certainly a challenge ahead. Nearly eight in ten Hong Kongers agree that robots should be regulated carefully, suggesting that regulators will have to forge a new and difficult path that seeks to maximise the benefits of new technology without reducing citizens’ opportunities and/or income.