Despite signs that robots are already significantly impacting the economy, and recent record sales in North America suggest the trend will continue, a new study by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab seems to indicate that humans prefer to relinquish control to robots … at least under certain conditions.

“In our research we were seeking to find that sweet spot for ensuring that the human workforce is both satisfied and productive,” says project lead Matthew Gombolay, a PhD student at CSAIL. “We discovered that the answer is to actually give machines more autonomy, if it helps people to work together more fluently with robot teammates.”

While humans clearly will be resentful over being fully outsourced to robots, the threshold for human acceptance of robots in control seems to be increased efficiency and teamwork when engaging side-by-side.

Specifically, in the study, groups of two humans and one robot worked together in one of three conditions: manual (all tasks allocated by a human); fully autonomous (all tasks allocated by the robot); and semi-autonomous (one human allocates tasks to self, and a robot allocates tasks to other human).

The fully-autonomous condition proved to be not only the most effective for the task, but also the method preferred by human workers. The workers were more likely to say that the robots “better understood them” and “improved the efficiency of the team.”

Gombolay emphasizes that giving robots control doesn’t mean a team of cyborgs will be running the show. It means the tasks are delegated, scheduled, and coordinated via a human-generated algorithm.

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