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Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Study: most people would rather lose a job to a robot than a human

A surprising study reveals how people feel about being replaced by robots in their jobs.

  • Scientists in Germany find that most people would rather a robot replaced them in their job than a human.
  • On the other hand, most people would be upset if a robot took the job of a colleague.
  • People have different emotional reactions to being replaced by robots versus humans.


By most accounts, the robots are coming for human jobs. Predictions vary when exactly that reality will be upon us, but it seems clear that within the next couple of decades, machines could be performing up to 50% of all jobs currently done by humans. That sounds quite depressing (if you're a Homo sapiens) but how badly do we really feel about it? A somewhat surprising new study reveals that most people would rather their job was taken over by robots rather than humans.

Of course, chances are you would rather not lose your job at all. But if it had to be so, losing it to a robot won't be quite as disappointing, found a team of psychologists led by Armin Granulo from the Technical University of Munich in Germany.

"Being replaced by modern technology versus being replaced by humans has different psychological consequences," said Granulo, as reported by New Scientist.

Another fascinating insight of the study showed that people would rather have a human and not a robot take over the job of a colleague. Of 300 subjects asked, 62% wanted a human to take the place of a leaving staff member.

When the same people were asked if it was their job that would be gone, only 37% would have had a human to take their position. That means 63% voted for the robots.

A follow-up study of 251 participants had the scientists asking how intense were negative emotions like anger or sadness in relation to colleagues being replaced by human or robot staff. The subjects were more upset when they thought about other people losing jobs to robots than if it was their own.

Waiter robot crosses the hall on July 25, 2019 in Rapallo, Italy.

Photo by Stefano Mazzola/Awakening/Getty Images

Why such a reaction? People generally find robots not that threatening to their identities. It's worse for your self-esteem if another human takes your job because it means you are somehow less valuable. A robot, on the other hand, is not the same kind of competition, according to Granulo.

We probably have come to expect robots to be better at everything eventually. After, we are the ones creating them just for such goals.

In another interesting survey, Granulo's team asked 296 workers in the manufacturing what they thought about the future of their work. A third expect to be replaced by tech soon, but still would rather it was robots then humans doing it.

You can check out the new paper, which besides Granulo, also included Christoph Fuchs and Stefano Puntoni, published in Nature Human Behaviour.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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