Survey Finds Fifth of U.K. Adults ‘Co-Existing in Harmony’ With Robotics and Autonomous Systems

October 11, 2018      

Despite news media reports raising the specter of massive job displacement from automation, particularly in the U.K., a survey found that a fifth of adults there believe they are already “co-existing in harmony” with robotics and autonomous systems.

Some 20% of a representative sample of British adults told pollsters that the U.K. is “already at the point of living in harmony with robotics technology and autonomous machines.” Almost a quarter (24%) said there is “more scope for robots to become part of our day-to-day lives.”

Other key findings, released to coincide with U.K. Robotics Week this past summer, are that 35% of people asked “would feel comfortable with having robots around the house,” and 22% believe ethical laws relating to the work robots can do should be created.

In addition more 13% agreed that there “should be an upper limit on the number of hours robots can work per day.”  Interestingly, some 8% of people asked would feel comfortable having a robot perform surgery, and more than a fifth (21%) would feel comfortable with a robot delivering food or packages to their home.

Prof. Guang-Zhong Yang discussed British attitudes to robotics and autonomous systems.

Prof. Guang-Zhong Yang

Public engagement

This year’s Robotics Week included 140 activities across the country, explained Guang-Zhong Yang, a professor at Imperial College London and chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems (UK-RAS) Network. It included lectures, challenges, and conferences, as well as hackathons and open days.

“The annual, week-long celebration shines a spotlight on the U.K.’s technology leadership in robotics and autonomous systems,” he said. “[It] engages the nation’s schools, colleges, and universities in developing the digital skills needed to drive the UK’s future economy.”

“The full program of events also provides many opportunities for the general public to engage with robotics technology and explore and discuss what it means for society and the future of how we live and work,” Yang added.

U.K. Robotics Week is a time to showcase robotics and autonomous systems.

The annual event is coordinated by the EPSRC UK-RAS network, with assistance from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and the UK-RAS Special Interest Group.

Unique strengths in British robotics and autonomous systems

Since its launch in 2016, U.K. Robotics Week has “really captured the imagination of the public,” Yang asserted. He pointed out that a growing number of event partners and organizations are looking to “come together to celebrate the unique strengths of the industry and to stimulate U.K. growth in this key sector” each year.

“U.K. Robotics Week provides a unique opportunity for students, individuals, institutions and businesses who are involved in robotics and autonomous systems innovation to come together talk about their ideas and engage a wider audience in the debate about the role of robotics technology in our lives,” he said.

“Indeed, our robotics survey this year demonstrated that the general public are now engaging in thinking quite deeply about robotics technology and its impact, which is great to see,” Yang noted.

As part of each year’s event, Yang reported that the organizing team also set a number of “key academic challenges aimed at bringing together the world’s top researchers to solve the hardest challenges in robotics.”

These robotics and autonomous systems challenges can range from social care and enabling independent living to extreme environments and autonomous driving.

The Surgical Robot Challenge, held during the annual Hamlyn Symposium on Medical Robotics, also gathers the leading international surgical robotics teams in London each year to demonstrate key innovations in low-cost robot-assisted surgical and diagnostic devices.

Yang observed that these innovations can “benefit the NHS [National Health Service], as well as be used as solutions for global health.”

“I am delighted to see that some of the systems showcased this year have been used for human studies and are en route to commercial exploitation,” he said.