Belgians are widely positive towards robots and artificial intelligence, definitely if they can help us on the work floor or at home. But what about robots who can show emotions and empathy and that will soon be very close to us?
Scientists at the Free University of Brussels, the VUB, quizzed the opinions of 1,000 Belgians. As part of the Homo Roboticus project 50 scientists looked at the advantages and disadvantages of the greater role in our lives being played by robots. Eight out of ten Belgian believe that robots will be indispensable when it comes to taking heavy, dangerous and boring work off our plate. But seven out of ten Belgians think more jobs will be lost than will be created by the use of robots.
Belgians have little difficulty with robots used in industrial settings that carry out a limited range of tasks. Today more advanced robots that can display emotions are on the way. These are robots that you can chat with, who look like people, and can help you with many tasks, so called social robots. Belgians don't yet feel too comfortable with this kind of machine. Only 16% said they were comfortable with robots that display emotions.
A full third of those quizzed believe that true friendships will develop between Belgians and robots, though the majority pooh-poohs this. Prof Malaika Brengman thinks this latter response is motivated by ignorance: "It's because most people have never been in contact with a robot like this. Today there are robots that can interact with people, ask the right question at the right moment, show emotion generating empathy."
Robot Zora is already used in nursing homes for the elderly, to distract and assist seniors. Zora can help seniors to exercise. Elderly people easily bond with robots and can become quite attached.
Artificial intelligence also throws up ethical questions. Belgians feel producers are responsible if robots make a mistake, while most Belgians would be unhappy if robots judged them. This already happens in the US where AI is used to determine sentences in court cases.
Quizzed on whether sex with a robot is adultery Belgians failed to come up with a clear verdict. Four out of ten Belgians says it's not adultery, three out of ten insists it is. Perhaps more worryingly three out of ten don't know!