Robot Fear Index: 30.9

Like many in the tech space, we believe robotics is changing the nature of work; however, public perception of robots is still a question mark. We developed our Robot Fear Index to measure and track the average consumer’s perception of robots. We asked over 500 US consumers about topics ranging from their use of robots at home to their comfort level with self-driving cars. Then we distilled the data down to an index value that we will publish regularly. An index value of 100 suggests widespread and extreme fear of robots; an index value of 0 suggests minimal fear of robots.

Robot Fear Index: 30.9. Consumer adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics is already quite broad, and yet, fear of robots is also pervasive. We fear that they’ll replace our jobs or somehow overthrow us; and to be blunt, those fears are valid. That said, our 2017 survey indicates acceptance for these technologies continues to grow. Our most recent Robot Fear Index value of 30.9 (vs. 31.5 in late 2016) suggests that public perception of robots is essentially unchanged over the last year despite increased awareness of artificial intelligence, robotics, and the potential impact of these technologies. Notably, the related increase in media coverage of these issue does not seem be causing the rise in fear that we might expect. In fact, the slight year-over-year decline in our index value suggests slightly less fear of automation technologies.

Our most recent Robot Fear Index value of 30.9 (vs. 31.5 in late 2016) suggests that public perception of robots is essentially unchanged over the last year despite recent media coverage and increased awareness of automation technologies.

Survey Demographics. Of the 433 US consumers that responded to our 2017 Robot Fear Survey, 54% were male and 46% were female. Our survey population was also equally weighted across all age demographics, as shown in the exhibits below.

Use of Digital Assistants Growing Slowly. We continue to see digital assistants as an onramp to AI and robotics for many consumers. Our 2017 survey shows 69% of consumers have used a digital assistant (Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa) and roughly one-third use a digital assistant once a day or more, which is in-line to our results last year. When asked how many digital assistant consumers own, 21% said 1, while 14% indicated greater than 1.

Comfort with Robots is Up Slightly. We believe the comfort with AI is driving comfort with robotics. We asked consumers on a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being the most) how comfortable they are with using robots in many different settings including house cleaning (robot vacuums), healthcare (surgical procedures) and travel (self-driving cars). We were encouraged to see that 7 of the 8 categories we track saw a modest increase in comfort levels around robotics.

Domestic Robot Adoption Large Catalyst. We believe that consumer awareness of robotics is closely correlated to the rise of domestic robots within households. Domestic robots are classified as robot vacuum cleaners, mops and lawn mowers, and over the next 10 years we believe this category will be one of the fastest growing robot markets in the world. Our data shows that 75% of US consumers have yet to buy a household robot. Although we do not have the historical data to show y/y comparisons, last week, iRobot, a leading robotic vacuum and wet floor company, reported better than expected Q3 results and raised their FY17 revenue guidance for a third consecutive quarter (see note here). Given iRobot’s results, we believe the domestic robot market is seeing strong adoption domestically and internationally.

What Is Keeping Consumers From Using Robots? Many consumers have not yet adopted AI or robotic technology. When asked what has kept you from using robots, 41% (36% in 2016) of consumers said they are just not interested, while 29% (21% in 2016) believes robots are too expensive. That said, it was encouraging only 6% of consumers don’t use robots because it makes them nervous, which is down from 11% in 2016. We believe one of the the bigger fears when it comes to AI and robotics, is the risk of taking jobs. When asked when will AI and robotics cause significant job loss, 27% said within 5 years, 31% believe in 10 years and 24% anticipate significant job loss in 20 years. The remaining 17% of consumers did not believe robots would ever take our jobs.

Bottom Line. Following our 2017 Robot Fear Index survey, we believe consumer fear of robots is essentially unchanged, despite growing awareness of the potential risks of automation. We think our index value of 30.9 quantifies this cautious comfort with robots and we’re looking forward to updating the Robot Fear Index regularly as we track the progress of the robotics theme.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.