Millions of jobs are expected to be threatened by robots and artificial intelligence in the coming years, and while much has been speculated about the economic impact on society, a new study suggests a surprising psychological impact on workers: that they’d rather be replaced by a robot than another person.
A study from the Technical University of Munich and Erasmus University in Rotterdam finds that while most people think it worse for a worker to be replaced by a robot or software than to be replaced by another person, they see it differently when their own jobs are at stake.
Business researchers at both universities conducted 11 studies and surveys across Europe and North America to see how people would react to hypothetical job losses.
Because people don’t usually compare themselves with machines, the idea of being replaced by a robot or a software is less of a threat to a worker’s feeling of self-worth, the researchers concluded. The reduced sense of self-threat could also be observed when participants assumed that they were being replaced by other employees who relied on artificial intelligence to do their work.
Christoph Fuchs, a professor of the TUM School of Management, said the research shows that when designing programs to help workers whose jobs were made obsolete by technology, boosting the worker’s self-esteem should have less of a priority than teaching them skills that will allow for employment.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.