If you're lucky, you may not lose your job to a robot in the future. That doesn't, however, mean that your boss won't lose his or her job to a robot in the future. And if (when) that happens, what's it going to be like working for a robot? A study from the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, suggests that you'll probably obey them nearly as predictably as you would a human.
Here's how this experiment worked, and I'm going to do some copying and pasting from the paper because a.) it's very well written and does a great job of explaining things and b.) it's late and I'm tired. But the important thing to know going in is that the experiment was designed to try to get participants to do an incredibly boring task that they really didn't want to do, and then see if they either spent 80 minutes working on it, or objected five separate times despite verbal prodding to continue. The experiment (conducted last year) was run using both a human and a Nao humanoid robot named Jim as authority figures:
Really, of course, the goal was to see whether the participants saw the human or the robot as more of an authority figure that they felt obligated to obey:
As far as robots go, Nao isn't really intended to be an authority figure. Its physical design and voice are both very non-threatening. In this study, 86 percent obeyed a human in a lab coat, which is significantly more than the 46 percent that obeyed Nao. But the point is that nearly half of the participants obeyed orders that they really didn't want to obey from a tiny, friendly little robot.
The suggestion is that people don't immediately dismiss robots as authorities, even if the robots are (apparently) autonomous and despite being told, twice, that there are no consequences to disobeying: "you can quit whenever you'd like. It's up to you how much data you give us; you are in control. Let us know when you think you're done and want to move on."A lot more research into this topic is needed, of course, but looks like our future robot overlords bosses won't face much resistance.
You can read the entire paper here.
Get more from IEEE Spectrum
This article originally appeared on IEEE Spectrum; all rights reserved.