AI Is Now a Source of Anxiety for Many People

New research shows ‘technophobes’ are more anxious about the future of work.

As the robots rise, so does the anxiety, according to new research published in the journal Social Science Computer Review. And people who are part of historically marginalized groups — like women, people of color and those with less education — report being most fearful of technology. As a result, they’re more anxious about what AI and automation mean for their future.

Researchers from Baylor University studied “technophobes” — people who fear new technology, like robots or AI, that they don’t understand — and the potential mental health issues associated with that fear. More than a third of the participants met the criteria of a “technophobe” and they reported being more fearful about losing their jobs due to automation compared to other anxiety-inducing situations like romantic rejection or public speaking, according to the press release.

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Technophobes were three times as likely to fear unemployment due to AI and automation compared to others, and they may have a harder time handling that worry in a healthy way. The study found technophobes have “95 percent greater odds of not being able to stop or control worrying” than others.

Paul McClure, study author and sociologist at Baylor College, explained that we can’t brush this off as the stuff of science fiction. “This is a real concern among a substantial portion of the American population. They are not simply a subgroup of generally fearful people,” he says.

We’ve gone through manufacturing revolutions before, but this one feels different, McClure continued. Some economists warn that the upcoming (and existing) rise of robots in the workplace will lead to a faster displacement of jobs than ever before. Those whose jobs are most at risk are those with routine responsibilities, such as truck drivers or warehouse workers, as “robots and software…can work for cheaper and longer hours than any human,” McClure says, adding that “regardless of whether technology might lead to certain people’s jobs becoming obsolete, the fear itself is real.”

In the face of automation, it’s more important than ever that we embrace and cultivate skills that are uniquely human — traits that robots are unlikely to replicate. For instance, harnessing emotional intelligence and creativity. Not only are they essential to our existence, but they can help us thrive in the workplace in an AI age.

Read the study press release here.