Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Robot?

Robots are most useful for highly repetitive work or tasks done where it's physically unsafe for a human worker to be.

I'm fairly confident a robot could not replace me in my current job. In fact, the work I do day in and day out is a good example of computing technology's positive impact on almost all of our workplaces—the process of producing these print magazines, for example, involves only a fraction of the workforce needed 20 years ago. But I can't see how robots could fill our shoes.

Y Soft Corporation (https://www.ysoft.com/en) conducted a survey of more than a thousand U.S. workers during June 2018 to find out how they feel about robots. The company, which is based in the Czech Republic and has a North American office in Grapevine, Texas, uses robots in product testing for printing products it makes.

While almost 80 percent of its survey respondents said robots aren't in use at all in their workplaces, about 17 percent said they are in use or there are plans to use them. And 83.78 percent said they do not believe their own job can be replaced by a robot.

Nearly 23 percent of workers under age 30 said they are worried about being replaced by robots, while only 9 percent of workers age 45-60 shared that fear. Karen Lachtanski, Y Soft's director of global communications, said the milliennials' answer to that question was one of the most interesting results from the survey. "They're a little more worried about being replaced," probably because of news stories about robots that cook hamburgers or serve as hotel valets, she said.

But those tasks aren't what robots are best suited for, Lachtanski said. Robots are most useful for highly repetitive work or tasks done where it's physically unsafe for a human worker to be, she explained.

Perhaps surprisingly, 51.33 percent of the respondents said they would feel comfortable working alongside a robot if it allowed them to focus on the core, less repetitive parts of their job. Only 20.94 percent said they would not feel comfortable.

Nearly 60 percent said a world where their entire work environment involves robotics will not come about in their lifetime, and Lachtanski agreed. The day when most of us are reporting to "Jetsons"-style workplaces is "far off," she said.

This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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