Almost 40% of domestic tasks could be done by robots ‘within decade’


A revolution in artificial intelligence could slash the amount of time people spend on household chores and caring, with robots able to perform about 39% of domestic tasks within a decade, according to experts.

Tasks such as shopping for groceries were likely to have the most automation, while caring for the young or old was the least likely to be affected by AI, according to a large survey of 65 artificial intelligence (AI) experts in the UK and Japan, who were asked to predict the impact of robots on household chores.

But greater automation could result in a “wholesale onslaught on privacy”, warned one of the report’s authors.

Ekaterina Hertog, associate professor in AI and society at Oxford University, called for a public debate about privacy in an era of smart technology, “where an equivalent of Alexa is able to listen in and sort of record what we’re doing and report back”.

Society needed to be alive to the issues raised by homes full of smart automation, she said, adding: “I don’t think that we as a society are prepared to manage that wholesale onslaught on privacy.”

She argued that, if realised, more automated help could help improve gender equality, because women still bear the burden of the majority of unpaid work. In the UK, women do more than twice as much unpaid work as men, while in Japan men do less than a fifth of the unpaid work done by women.

But she told the BBC that the expense of technology meant the use of household robots could also lead to “a rise of inequality in free time” – with only richer households able to afford the technology.

The experts involved in the research, published in the journal Plos One, estimated that only 28% of care work, such as teaching or accompanying a child, or caring for an older relative, would be automated. But they predicted that 60% of the time spent on shopping for groceries would be cut.

However, predictions about robots taking over domestic work “in the next 10 years” have been made for several decades, but the reality of a robot able to put out the bins and pick lego up from the floor has remained elusive.

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Hertog compared the optimism about domestic robots to that surrounding self-driving cars. “The promise of self-driving cars, being on the streets, replacing taxis, has been there, I think, for decades now – and yet, we haven’t been able quite to make robots function well, or these self-driving cars navigate the unpredictable environment of our streets. Homes are similar in that sense,” she said.

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