According to Pew Research, more than 70% of Americans fear robots. Worse than that, a 2015 Survey of American Fears done by Chapman University found more Americans fear robots than death. Any cursory online AI-based research throws up articles describing devastating robot-caused fiascos, robots usurping your bodies, your minds, your jobs, your cities – even your sex life and social interactions.
The brightest human minds like Stephen King, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates have all warned that robots may bring about mankind's demise. What if you could innovate a therapy for this growing "robophobia" where victims will appreciate robots for their technological contributions and understand that, at the end of the day, robots are controlled by humans and constrained by regulations?
As a former City & Guilds-British accredited therapist, I have five suggestions for your modality.
The client lies on a couch in darkened room and elaborates upon their robophobia. The therapist is likely to delve into dreams, pathology, and childhood situations. In fact, they may even associate the patient’s fear of robots to said dreams and childhood.
Prepare for the absurd, as the therapist may go on to compare robots to parental figures. After all, intelligent robots can invoke thoughts of magic mental powers. Compare parental attitudes towards robotic children, talk about client idealizations of robotic soldiers or sexual fantasies involving robotic components and systems, and so on.
Therapists who use this approach rely on Freudian theories of narcissism, animism, infantile complexes, ego ideal, and ideal ego to interpret client’s fears. In fact, human-robot interaction is a burgeoning field in contemporary Freudian literature.
2) Rogerian or Client-Centered Counseling
The Rogerian therapist encourages you to talk (or “emote” as it’s commonly called). The therapist will practice “unconditional judgment” where they listen to you and accept your opinions on robots (or anything for that matter) no matter how abstract they seem.
Rogerian therapists put client in the driver’s seat, which means they help you untangle your perplexities until it's you who discovers the solution. A good therapist will help you trace your fears to its source. You may find that you detest robots because you’re underemployed. Or, because you have unresolved trauma and fear your future.
The therapist will then help you get to the root of these fears, thereby forming and testing plans for treatment. At the end of the day, you may decide to retain your robot apathy without it encumbering your life. You may, on the other hand, see robots as your friends and even consider robotics as your new career.
The behavioral therapist takes a more active stance than other therapists. They may ask you to interview robotics engineers on their technology, watch documentaries on AI development, read scientific articles on robotic innovation, research collaborative robotics on safety standards, and so forth.
They’ll also want you to educate yourself, learn the terminology, and keep up with AI trends as best you can. These efforts are in the hope of getting you in touch with AI/ robot-based facts so that you move past your robophobia and accept, if not adore, robots. The essence of behaviorism centers around how the therapy is behavior or “practice” based.
With that in mind, prepare for weeks if not months of encounters with robots.
Cognitive therapy, as its name suggests, deals with thoughts. The cognitive therapist is likely to consider your fears irrational, and as such, will tear them apart to show you their absurdities. “You’re afraid of a robot,” they may ask. “Why? Has a robot ever killed? Harmed the world? Show me the evidence!”
If you cite Stephen King or Bill Gates, you commit the fallacy of “argument from authority” whereby you rely on non-experts (an author or an entrepreneur) rather than a scientist to argue your point. Furthermore, to address the question of ways robots can be harmful, you’d need to present facts.
We have rigorous safety standards and advanced safety technology. Far from robots taking our jobs, new technology provides new industries, new jobs, and more prosperity. “When was the last time a driverless car tossed you over, and what is its possibility that it will kill you to a heart attack?”
The cognitive approach will drag you to your bottommost fears, forcing you to dissect them rationally before turning them inside out and transforming them.
5) Brief Therapy
This type of therapy, also called Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT), is the shortest type of therapy. It is typically done in 10 to 12 sessions, with SFBT being both directive and goal-oriented. Therapy proceeds with several questions that force you to identify and clarify your fears, specify what you'd like to get out of therapy, and notes on your life would change if you could put robots in their place.
A key question is the “miracle question” where the therapist ask something along the lines of, “If a miracle occurred while you were asleep tonight, what changes would you notice in your apathy to robots tomorrow?” This opens up your mind to creative thinking and to developing a plan that would dissipate robophobia forever.
Brief therapists integrate a cognitive, behavioral, or cognitive-behavioral approach, where they use empathy and compliments to build up your strengths and get you out of therapy quickly. Like client-based counseling, your therapist believes you're the one who knows how to improve your life best and, with the appropriate coaching and questioning, can find the best solutions.
There are more than fifty types of psychotherapeutic approaches, but these (in my opinion) are the most effective and most compatible for treating robophobia. Sometimes you’ll need to refer clients to psychiatrists; the Baylor study, for instance. The Baylor study finds that people who fear robots, artificial intelligence, and new technology are likely to suffer anxiety-related mental health issues which may be out of your depth.
No matter which approach you choose, it’s time to hang up your shingle and get to work! To those who fear robots, the therapist will see you now.