Robots as colleagues? Most decision-makers are still wary

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  • TNS-Infratest has surveyed SMEs and large corporations regarding the importance of robotics and AI
  • Only one in six decision-makers could imagine having a robot as a colleague
  • At present, 44 percent of companies have no plans for use of intelligent machines
Telekom Chief Human Resources Officer Christian P. Illek and Robot "Pepper".

Telekom Chief Human Resources Officer Christian P. Illek and Robot "Pepper".

Companies in Germany view robotics and artificial intelligence as significant with regard to Germany's economic and social development, but they are uncertain about the extent to which workforces would accept robots as colleagues. These findings were among the results of a recent survey conducted by the opinion-research institute TNS Infratest on behalf of Deutsche Telekom. The survey queried a total of 1,000 decision-makers in a) small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) and b) large corporations (with 100+/500+ employees).

Use of automation set to grow enormously

With the next decade, so the expectations of respondents, companies' use of automation, in the form of intelligent machines and robots, is going to grow enormously. While about 20 percent of all work tasks are now performed through automation, that figure is expected to rise to more than 85 percent in the next ten years. At the same time, 44 percent of the companies surveyed reported having no plans for use of intelligent machines. While the corresponding figure for companies with more than 500 employees is only 34 percent, for firms with fewer than 500 it is a full 46 percent.

No fear of job losses

The issue of "robots as colleagues" is viewed with a great deal of uncertainty. Only one in six respondents can readily accept the idea. The most frequently cited argument against it is a "lacking human component." The most common argument in favor is the "support" that robots could provide. About one fourth view robots as potential assets, while one sixth see them as threats. About half of all persons surveyed hold both perspectives at the same time.

Another interesting finding was that while about two thirds of the decision-makers surveyed have no worries about robots' taking their jobs, a full third do have such concerns. On the other hand, 40 percent of all respondents do not think a smart robot could ever gain a seat on a company's board of management.

A need seen for limits on R&D

The reported opinions also diverge when it comes to robots' future capabilities. Half of all respondents are convinced that intelligent machines will one day develop consciousness, although, according to two thirds of those in this camp, that milestone is still 50 years away or longer. One third of all decision-makers in companies see no possibility whatsoever for such a development. But 58 percent of the survey participants stated that there need to be clear-cut limits on what sort of R&D is allowed in the area of artificial intelligence (AI) – because one can never know what the future will bring.

"The survey results paint a mixed picture, with the perceived opportunities and the perceived risks in balance. My impression is that companies have not yet really warmed, deep down, to the idea of intelligent machines," noted Christian P. Illek, Deutsche Telekom Chief Human Resources Officer, in commenting on the survey results. "What does seem clear enough is that we need open discussion about the ethical issues arising in connection with the potential of artificial intelligence – starting from the premise that machines are there to serve people; it's not the other way around."

About Deutsche Telekom:

Dr. Christian P. Illek, Board member for Finance (CFO)

Robots are rapidly changing our world

An article by Christian P. Illek, Member of the Board of Management Deutsche Telekom AG for Human Resources.