The Robot in Cubicle B

Some fear artificial intelligence will displace them from the workforce.

Technophobes are more afraid of the automation that could lead to job displacement than they are of romantic rejection, public speaking, or police brutality. Paul McClure, a sociologist in the College of Arts & Sciences at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, used data from The Chapman Survey of American Fears, a national random survey, to study how people feel about impending automation.

He found that 37 percent of the respondents fit the definition of a “technophobe”— someone who is either afraid or very afraid of robots in the workforce, decision-making robots, artificial intelligence, or technology they don’t necessarily trust or understand. Those in historically marginalized groups— women, nonwhites, and the less educated—report being most fearful of technology. Technophobes are three times more likely to be fearful of unemployment when compared to others, and nearly three times more likely to fear not having enough money in the future.

While some futurists contend that technology will bring new job opportunities, “many people in the United States suspect that technology will not deliver widespread financial security,” McClure says. “People in certain occupations may legitimately fear losing their jobs to robots and software that can work for cheaper and for longer hours than any human.”

McClure’s study—“‘You’re Fired,’ Says the Robot: The Rise of Automation in the Workplace, Technophobes, and Fears of Unemployment”—was first published online March 20, 2017, in Social Science Computer Review.