KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 — Slightly more than half of Malaysian respondents of an international poll viewed the use of robots to perform human tasks as negative for society.
The International Science Survey 2019-2020 — which involved 20 countries — examined the attitudes of Malaysians towards robots and automation in the workplace, artificial intelligence (AI), and Malaysia’s very own programme to explore space, after having considered all the benefits and disadvantages of such matters.
In the survey results released by the US-based Pew Research Center last month, the 1,650 Malaysians polled presented a mixed view towards use of robots for workplace automation, with 51 per cent saying this has been bad for society while 45 per cent saying this has been good; three per cent said it has been both good and bad for society.
Polled via phone between October to November 2019 in Bahasa Melayu, Mandarin, and English, the Malaysian respondents were answering the question of whether they felt using robots to automate many jobs humans have done in the past to have mostly been a good or bad thing for society as a whole, after considering all the advantages and disadvantages.
Similarly, when it came to the development of AI or computer systems designed to imitate human behaviours, Malaysians surveyed had mixed views on whether it was good or bad for society.
Out of the 1,650 Malaysians polled, 53 per cent said it has mostly been good for society, while 44 per cent said it has mostly been bad for society, followed by three per cent who said it has been both good and bad for society, and one per cent who declined to answer or gave other answers.
When asked about the Malaysian government’s space exploration programme at the National Space Agency (Angkasa) — merged with another body in 2019 to form the Malaysian Space Agency (Mysa) — 83 per cent of the 1,650 Malaysians polled said it has been good for society, while 14 per cent said it has been bad for society.
Malaysia had in October 2007 sent Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor as the first Malaysian in space, where he returned after 10 days at the International Space Station where he had conducted various experiments.
How do other Asian countries view robots and AI?
In the same survey, most of Malaysia’s peers in the Asia-Pacific region displayed a more positive attitude towards the use of robots at the workplace to replace human labour, with comparatively more saying it was a good thing for society in Japan (68 per cent), Taiwan and South Korea’s respondents both at 62 per cent, Singapore (61 per cent).
As for India, 47 per cent said it was good while 27 per cent it was bad, with Australia displaying a mixed view with 47 per cent saying it was bad and 44 per cent saying it was good.
As for the development of AI, about two-thirds or more in most of the Asia-Pacific countries viewed it as a good thing, including 72 per cent of Singapore’s respondents, South Korea (69 per cent), India (67 per cent), Taiwan (66 per cent), Japan (65 per cent), while Australia recorded 49 per cent saying it was good and 39 per cent saying it was bad.
The Pew Research Center referred to its own 2018 survey on the view in 10 developing and developed countries towards job automation by robots and computers to replace the work done by humans currently, with a majority of the respondents thinking that it is likely that people would have a hard time finding jobs and that the inequality or gap between the rich and poor would worsen.
What about the age, education, gender factors?
While the International Science Survey 2019-2020 of 20 countries generally found that men in most countries were more positive about both robots and AI, the difference between genders was not statistically significant in Malaysia.
When examined according to the gender of the respondents in Malaysia, 50 per cent of women and 55 per cent of men found AI to be a good thing for society, while 43 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men found robots at the workplace to be good.
The Pew Research Center said that age was not a factor in the respondents’ views in most countries surveyed on the topic of automation.
On the topic of AI, however, 10 of the countries surveyed showed that younger adults (or those younger than the median age of the pool of respondents) are more likely than older adults to say the development of AI has been good.
“In Malaysia, the pattern is reversed, with older adults seeing AI more positively than younger adults (57 per cent vs. 49 per cent, respectively),” the pollster said.
Education does play a significant role in the views of Malaysian respondents, with 52 per cent of those with less education and 59 per cent of those with more education or who studied beyond secondary school saying AI has been good for society.
Similarly for the use of robots to automate jobs, significant differences were found in views based on education levels of Malaysian respondents, with 44 per cent of those with less education and 53 per cent of those with more education viewing automation positively.
On workplace automation, taking more science courses in post-secondary studies also makes a difference for Malaysian respondents, with 49 per cent of those who took zero to two science courses and 61 per cent of those who took three or more science courses saying that using robots to automate human jobs is a good thing.