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Many Americans Want Government To Moderate Use of Job-Killing Robots

October 5, 2017, 5:30 PM UTC

Americans remain deeply conflicted about the growing use of automation. Many see robots and related technology as enhancing their lives, but more worry that automation will limit their ability to earn a living, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

To eliminate some of the uncertainty, many people said they want the government to help with any potential fallout from automation. For example, a whopping 85% of those surveyed said they favor or strongly favor a requirement that robots work only in unhealthy or dangerous environments, presumably where human workers would be at risk of injury or death.

And 61% favor a government-supplied guaranteed income to cover basic needs while 39% oppose or strongly oppose such an income. Universal basic income, usually defined as a flat government payment to all citizens, would act as a basic safety net for those whose earning ability is impacted by automation. It has some big-name proponents including Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Related: Here are the Jobs We’d Love to Lose to Robots

Overall, nearly three-quarters of the those surveyed said they worry about automation’s impact on jobs, while 32% said they are enthusiastic about its impact on jobs. The more educated a respondent is, the more likely that person is to embrace automation as a job enhancer instead of a job killer, according to the report, called “Automation in Everyday Life,” released on Wednesday. The survey was based on responses from 4,135 adults in May.

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There’s a more even split among those who said they would or would not use a given type of automation. For example, 44% said they would take a spin in a driverless car, compared to 55% who would not. And 41% said they would use a “robot caretaker” compared to 59% who would not. These robots, sometimes called “carebots” can help elderly or disabled people stay in their homes by performing housekeeping duties, or even assist in physical therapy.


Related: The Bright Side of Job-Killing Automation

Fast food workers and insurance claims adjusters are the jobs most at risk of extinction due to automation, according to survey. Nurses, however, can breathe easy: 80% of respondents saw nursing jobs as immune to automation.

And, tellingly, 70% of respondents viewed their own job—whatever that might be— as being safe from robotic takeover.