Technological innovations have produced robots capable of jobs that, until recently, only humans could perform. The present research explores the psychology of “botsourcing”—the replacement of human jobs by robots—while examining how understanding botsourcing can inform the psychology of outsourcing—the replacement of jobs in one country by humans from other countries.
We test four related hypotheses across six experiments:
(1) Given people’s lay theories about the capacities for cognition and emotion for robots and humans, workers will express more discomfort with botsourcing when they consider losing jobs that require emotion versus cognition;
(2) people will express more comfort with botsourcing when jobs are framed as requiring cognition versus emotion;
(3) peoplewillexpress more comfortwithbotsourcingfor jobsthat do requireemotionif robots appear to convey more emotion; and
(4) people prefer to outsource cognition-oriented versus emotion-oriented jobs to other humans who are perceived as more versus less robotic. These results have theoretical implications for understanding social cognition about both humans and non humans and practical implications for the increasingly botsourced and outsourced economy.
During the American economic downturn, a New York Times editorial entitled, “How Did The Robot End Up With My Job,” described the replacement of human jobs with machines as a primary cause of unemployment (Friedman, 2011). Five days earlier, a similar editorial, “Will Robots Steal Your Job?”, warned of a forthcoming “robot invasion” in the workplace (Manjoo, 2011). More generally, as technology advances, so too do concerns about a “workerless world,” where robotic employment eliminates millions of jobs (Rifkin, 1995) and slows job recovery (Lyons, 2011; Sachs & Kotlikoff, 2012).
The increasing use of robots in the workplace and the resulting job competition between humans and machines has shifted attention from the impact of outsourcing to the impact of botsourcing: shifting jobs not to human workers in another country, but from humans to robots. Our research addresses this issue, exploring how perceptions of robots as human impact perceptions of botsourcing jobs to robots—and then uses these insights to inform how perceptions of humans from different countries as more or less robotic impact attitudes towards outsourcing jobs to those humans.
We employ the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of robot—“an intelligent artificial being typically made of metal and resembling in some way a human or other animal”—and define botsourcing as the use of robots or robotic technology to replace human workers. Whereas
botsourcing has historically been associated with jobs in industrial domains such as factories, botsourcing is rapidly emerging in domains ranging from service to therapy to warfare (Friedman, 2011; Gates, 2007). This changing environment raises issues that the present research attempts to address: how people respond to botsourcing—including when botsourcing threatens their own jobs—and what factors might increase acceptance of this practice.
Addressing these questions requires answering, what does it means to be human?