A provocative new poll shows that Americans have little trouble imagining a future full of personal service robots -- at least when it comes to robots tasked with cleaning our homes, driving our cars, and even helping fight our wars.
But the HuffPost/YouGov poll shows that we're a bit squeamish about bots in especially personal roles, such as caring for elderly people or replacing a human sex partner. These findings are consistent with research conducted by Stanford University's Dr. Leila Takayama, an expert in robot-human relationships.
"We've been finding that people prefer the idea of working with robots instead of having robots work in place of people," Takayama told The Huffington Post in an email.
In the poll, 58 percent of Americans said that robots will be cleaning our homes by 2030. But only 33 percent said that they'd like a robot servant. Forty-two percent indicated that they wouldn't want one. Those between 40 and 44 years of age were the most likely to say they would like a robot servant, while adults age 65 or older were the least likely.
The idea of having robots care for elderly people raised even bigger qualms. Only 25 percent indicated that they think such robots will be available by 2030, and even fewer (22 percent) said that they would let a robot care for an aging friend or relative. Fifty-eight percent said they wouldn't let a robot do that.
Forty-six percent of respondents to the survey say that robots will be able to drive cars by the year 2030. The idea doesn't seem so outlandish given that Google is already developing a self-driving car, with managers of the project saying that the technology could be on sale to consumers in as little as three years.
In fact, two states (Nevada and California) already have laws on the books permitting driverless vehicles, though both require an actual human to be in the car and prepared to take the wheel if necessary.
Forty-eight percent of respondents indicated that they believed robots will be able to fight in the military by 2030.
And what about robotic sex partners?
Eighteen percent of respondents indicated that they believed sexbots will be available by 2030. Nine percent indicated that they would have sex with a robot if they could (though perhaps they wouldn't have been keen on admitting that if they could).
Sex with a robot raises some thorny ethical questions -- including whether a married person who hooked up with a robot would be guilty of infidelity. What did the poll find? Forty-two percent of Americans indicated that such a dalliance would constitute cheating. Another 31 percent said it wouldn't, and 26 percent said they were unsure. Respondents under age 30 were almost as likely to say it wouldn't be cheating (34 percent) as that it would (36 percent). Americans over age 65 were far more likely to say that it would, by a 52 percent to 24 percent margin.
The poll was conducted Feb. 20-21 among 1,000 U.S. adults. It used a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.