Why We Should Just Accept Our Robot Overlords

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HeartCircuit_AustinWattsIllustrated by Austin Watts.
As a species, we haven't been completely welcoming towards our inevitable robot replacements. So, researchers thought we might be more accepting of our new colleagues if we still felt a little bit in control over them. But, nope — a new study from an MIT lab suggests that we'd rather take the ultimate lazy route and just let the robot take charge.

The study, performed by researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, was designed to examine the degree to which robots should be given decision-making authority in a team Lego-building task. Each team consisted of a human participant, a human assistant (one of the experimenters), and a robot assistant. Each of the 24 participants either had to direct tasks amongst the team members, share that authority with the robot, or just let the robot decide when to perform its job.

To build the Lego models, the robot had to fetch the corresponding kits for its human team members to put together. And, the two humans had to take turns fetching and building them. After all eight kits were built, participants completed a survey about their experience working with the bot.

Results showed that robots outperformed human participants in allocating and scheduling tasks, meaning that the Lego models were built faster and more efficiently when the robot was in charge. And, rather than finding a magical middle ground, the majority of participants actually preferred to have robots work autonomously without their input. But, that's not necessarily surprising — after all, the dream employee is one you can trust to work alone.

Still, the participants here were college students and young professionals whose livelihoods weren't exactly threatened by the possibility of being replaced by robots, the authors state. So, while these results suggest that we'd rather have a robot boss than share our authority, they certainly don't take into account all of the larger issues at play in a factory situation.

While a robot might not be your idea of a great cubicle buddy, they may become inevitable in many lines of work — despite 2001: A Space Odyssey-esque fears. Don't worry, though; you'll still feel appreciated. The algorithms have made sure of that.