The UK isn’t as accepting of robots as most countries

This just in: Brits worrying

Robots are coming! There’s no need to panic though. They might be beating us at our own games and standing up strong to violence, but now and then they prove why humans are safe for now. Most of our robots work in factories or the military but we’re seeing them slowly creep into other industries. A lot of companies are starting to pay attention and try to gauge how much of an impact robots will have on their own industries.

Travelzoo, a media commerce company, has conducted a global survey with thousands of participants in several countries to better understand consumer acceptance of robots in the travel and tourism industry. The overall results are promising for robot fans. 80% of participants think robots will be a big part of our lives in the very near future and 75% think robots in travel and tourism would improve their lives. What’s interesting to us is the breakdown of results from different countries. 92% of participants in China would be comfortable with robots helping them travel, but only 61% of UK participants would comfortable.

It seems that the Brits aren’t overly welcoming of robots and not just in tourism roles. Exactly half of the British participants felt that robots are scary and two thirds are concerned about robots handling day-to-day travel responsibilities. 86% of Brits would rather be greeted by a human than a robot. What we find interesting about this extreme result is that participants were also asked whether they would prefer talking to a human who could only answer some questions or a robot that could answer all their question. In that case, 52% of Brits preferred the robot.Perhaps better education about what robots are capable of would change some of the negative perceptions.

Like the global responses, most of the Brits understood that robots have better memory; can protest large amounts of data faster; and can learn multiple languages quicker. Where Brits become concerned is with the language recognition itself. 78% of Brits were worried that robots wouldn’t understand our irony, humour, and slang. Says it all, really. Beyond the worries about language, the other big difference of opinion was how robots should look. 59% of Brits want robots to look like robots and not have human features but 76% of Chinese respondents want robots to look more human-like.

Travelzoo’s European President is happy that the global results are mostly in favour of robots entering his industry. “Robots and artificial intelligence are making their debut on the tourism stage, and our research into global acceptance of robots working in the travel industry shows that consumer acceptance is generally high for this form of technology.” Addressing the British results he added, “It was fascinating to see some cultural stereotypes emerge from the research into global acceptance of robots. The UK participants feared the famous British sense of humour would be lost on robots.”

Tourism expert Stephen Page, a professor at Bournemouth University thinks it’s important to investigate opinions on robots while their use in the industry is still young. He said, “Understanding how consumers will embrace and interact with this new technology will be critical to their adoption and dissemination in an industry that is one of the market leaders in the use of technology.”

The robot revolution will likely take off here and in China at around the same time, so it’s interesting to see that participants from both countries have quite different opinions on robots, even if it is just in the travel and tourism industry. If the robots are coming, they better be ready for our sarcasm and irony.

Main image © IBM Watson