Olivia Parker
Jan 9, 2018

Chinese and Indian consumers ready for robots—or are they?

Havas Group's latest quarterly consumer survey finds Asia's most populous countries more forward thinking than most about a tech-human future. But concerns remain widespread.

25 percent of men surveyed in China indicated an openness to the idea of a robot love interest.
25 percent of men surveyed in China indicated an openness to the idea of a robot love interest.

Almost a third of Chinese consumers are open to it. Indian consumers even more so. Could 2018 be the year that technology and biology finally fuse?

About a third of consumers (32% in China and 33% in India) would like to have smartphone technology “integrated into their anatomies”, compared to a 12% global average, says Havas Group’s latest ‘Prosumer Report’ on the impact of technology in our lives.

The iLife study, which surveyed over 12,000 people globally—including 3,256 in 10 APAC markets—and is just being published in APAC, found Chinese and Indian consumers appear to be far more open-minded than the rest of the world about a future in which lines between the human and the artificial become increasingly blurred.

A quarter of men in China, for instance, say they would be prepared to have a romantic relationship with a robot, a significant rise on the 11% worldwide view.

More than half (54%) of Chinese and 45% of Indian millennials, meanwhile, think the day when human-robot romances and deep friendships will seem normal is not too far off; just 18% of mainstream consumers globally think the same.

Informing these figures is the widely held view in both Asian countries but particularly in China (71%, compared to 52% in India) that robots will one day become so lifelike in terms of looks and reactions that they will be indistinguishable from humans.

So strong is their faith in the machine-as-human concept, in fact, that over half of Chinese consumers say they are already comfortable with the idea of AI machines acting as their financial advisors, and 42% wouldn’t mind being treated by an AI doctor. This stands in great contrast to Western consumers, of whom just 11% or under like the idea of a machine GP in the US, UK and France.

In France, where the AI venture capital firm Asgard recently counted just 39 companies claiming to be in the AI industry, only 27% of respondents felt that artificial intelligence would “help humanity progress” compared to 65% of those in China, which plans to lead the world in AI in just over a decade’s time. And 41% of Chinese think AI will “solve our most pressing problems”, compared to 18% of French consumers.

Havas credits Chinese and Indian people’s enhanced “familiarity” with technology for their significantly more positive outlook, especially within Asia. "Definitely their awareness of how it works in their lives is very different from the rest of APAC," says Josh Gallagher, strategy head at Havas Group. "Look at markets like Indonesia and the Philippines. They are super highly social markets but the technology part hasn't really infiltrated yet like it has in those other places, where payment systems like e-commerce and the deepness of social like you have in China isn't the same."

This said, where the Chinese do align with the rest of the world is in their worry that the dominance of digital technologies will make humans lazy, less imaginative and—despite their fascination with robot relationships—less connected to each other. A comparison with Havas’s survey in 2009 reveals an 11% rise (55 to 64%) in Chinese people agreeing with the statement: “I worry that digital communication is weakening human bonds.” Similar increases were noted in the US, the UK and Brazil.

The challenge for brands, says Gallagher, is to appreciate this apparent contradiction: while consumers in markets like China and India may demonstrate a strong awareness of what may be 'normal' in a machine-dominated future and even say they are open to radical ideas like robot relationships, this doesn't mean they will neccessarily embrace them when they arrive. "The question is not just 'do they have access to the technology thats available?' but 'do they want it in their lives and will it improve their lives in any way?'" he says. "I think it's up to us as brands to be able to use it to improve their lives."

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