The editorial in European Voice last week began with the words “Not all opinion polls published by the European Union institutions are worthy of study” (“In search of meaningful elections”, 13-19 September). One survey that cannot easily be dismissed is a survey requested from Eurobarometer by the European Commission's department for communications networks, content and technology.
The survey is of attitudes towards robots and it informs us that 69% of EU citizens would feel uncomfortable about having a robot walk their dog, while 57% would feel uncomfortable about having a medical operation performed on them by a robot.
Alas, there is no data about robots operating on dogs or dogs operating on people, nor how the dogs and robots feel about it. But overall this must be good news for the robotics industry, since getting a machine to locate and bag fresh dog crap must be quite a challenge compared to having one carry out a hip replacement.
The poll suggests that most EU citizens do not want a robot looking after their children or elderly relatives (although Poles and Bulgarians are less uptight about this than citizens in other member states).
More than two-thirds of EU citizens questioned said that they had a positive view of robots (although just 12% have actually used one, with the Greeks, Bulgarians, Cypriots and Maltese the least likely to have done so).
And as if to show just how pressing it was to conduct this survey, most Europeans said they did not think that robots would be part of their daily home life in the years to come: only 8% of optimistic souls believe that it will be normal for robots to do housework in five years' time.
The survey found that an absolute majority of EU citizens think that robots steal people's jobs. Yet somehow those who wrote up the survey conclude that “Europeans recognise [robots'] benefits especially in the work place”. The pro-robot bias gives rise to a suspicion that robots may already be writing Eurobarometer reports.