What with robots being used for everything from flipping burgers to parcel deliveries, many of us are increasingly worried that the machines are coming for our jobs. However, these fears are largely unfounded, a study carried out by researchers at the National University of Singapore has found.


And thinking more positively about our unique human qualities can help to assuage these thoughts, they say.

The team randomly assigned 343 parents of students at the National University of Singapore to three groups. One of the groups was given an article about the use of robots in business to read, the second a general article about robots, and the third an article not related to robots.

All three groups were then asked about their concerns over job security. The group that read the story about robots in business reported significantly higher fears of job insecurity due to robots replacing them, the team found.

“Some economists theorise that robots are more likely to take over blue-collar jobs faster than white-collar jobs,” said lead researcher Kai Chi Yam.

“However, it doesn’t look like robots are taking over that many jobs yet, so a lot of these fears are rather subjective.”

Then, in a second experiment carried out online, the team asked 400 volunteers to write down specific human values that were important to them, such as friendship, a sense of humour or skills such as athletics before being asked about their job security. They found that this kind of self-affirmation exercise allayed the volunteers’ fears about being replaced by working robots.

“Media reports on new technologies like robots and algorithms tend to be apocalyptic in nature, so people may develop an irrational fear about them,” said Yam.

“Most people are overestimating the capabilities of robots and underestimating their own capabilities.”

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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.