Thursday, March 7, 2019

Brookings Institution 2018 Survey on Robots

The survey was undertaken by researchers at the Brookings Institution through an online U.S. national poll of 2,021 adult internet users between June 4 and 6, 2018. Here are some of the key survey findings, followed by my observations.

1. The survey asked how likely robots are to take over most human activities within the next 30 years? 19% feel this was very likely, 33% believes this is somewhat likely, 23% feel it is not very likely, and 25% were not sure. 

The headline for the Brooking's posting claims "52% believe robots will perform most human activities in 30 years." Combining the very likely (19%) and somewhat likely (33%) into a broad affirmation of the 30 year scenario seems to me to be a bit overstated. I honestly don't think people I encounter have fixed ideas about robots. Rather, what I witness is ambiguity and a bit of anxiety and awkwardness when confronting a care robot.

2. Thirty-two percent believe the U.S. government should set up a Federal Robotics Commission to regulate robot development and usage, compared to 29 percent opposed and 39 percent who were unsure. 

I am not seeing a significant mandate for Federal governmental action in these findings.
3. Sixty-one percent said they were uncomfortable with robots, while only 16 percent felt comfortable with robots and 23 percent were unsure. When asked how worried they were about robots, 61 percent said they were unworried, while 29 percent were worried and 22 percent were not sure.

How are we supposed to reconcile the finding that 61% of respondents are uncomfortable with robots, with the finding that 61% are unworried about robots? It doesn't make sense to me.

4. Thirty-eight percent felt robots would make their lives easier in the next five years, while 17 percent felt their lives would become harder and 45 percent did not know.

I believe the 45% of the respondents who claimed they didn't know is the more useful finding. If one has never had interactions with a care robot for example, how are they supposed to make a judgment about making their lives easier? Today, most Americans have had little or no personal interaction with care robots, or robots of any kind. 
5. When asked how common they thought robots would become over the next five years, 13 percent said very common, 32 percent said somewhat common, 26 percent felt they would not be very common, and 29 percent did not know.

I believe that care robots won't be commercially viable for 3 years or more, putting me in the "not very common" group. For now, pet robots are being used in a number of post acute care settings, and the Front Porch system has published a definitive study on the positive clinical impact of a robot pet called PARO. Kaiser Permanente is making a care robot named MABU available to some of it's members to help manage their chronic diseases. A nurse assistant robot called MOXI by Diligent Robotics is being piloted in Dallas and Austin hospitals. Interesting developments, to be sure, but far from widespread acceptance.

6. We asked about the kinds of robots that would interest them. Twenty percent were interested in robots that would help them clean house, 17 percent wanted robots that would provide home security, and only 9 percent were interested in a robot that helps to care for a child or aging relative.

To me, the key finding is the 9% who were interested in a robot that cares for a child or an aging relative. It doesn't suggest much market demand for robots to serve children or aging clients. Looking at a more nuanced breakdown, we observe the following.

6 a.How interested are you in having a robot that helps care for a child or aging relative?

  • 71% very disinterested
  • 13% somewhat disinterested
  • 4% somewhat interested
  • 5% very interested
  • 7% don’t know no answer

To me the finding of 71% very disinterested is a stark reminder that while we may be willing to have robots wash dishes and clean the house, we draw a line involving robots in direct care. This distinction was made clear to me during a recent lecture when an RN in the audience was adamant that no robot could ever deliver compassionate care to an aging client!

7. The survey inquired how much people would pay for a robot that handles routine chores.  Forty-two percent said they would pay $250 or less, 10 percent said they would pay between $251 and $500, 3 percent said they would pay from $501 and $750, 3 percent indicated they would pay between $751 and $1,000, and 3 percent were willing to pay more than $1,000. Thirty-nine percent did not provide a figure. 

The price points of care robots that I cover range from $100 for a Hasbro Joy for All pet to $18,000 for a robot nursing assistant, with the average purchase price between $500 and $1000, before adding monthly subscription fees. Two robots-JIBO and KURI- went out of business in 2018, because their price points were high ($700 to $900) and the units offered questionable value. There clearly is a sizeable gap between what the respondents wish to pay for a care robot and what the vendors are now asking. And, you can buy an Amazon or Google voice activated smart display for $250 and no subscription fees. These devices present significant competition for care robots. Finally, there isn't a care robot in this country with a commanding market position, enjoying a first mover advantage.


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