There are a few things that distinguish Canadians from Americans: the pronunciation of "about," cold tolerance, the capacity to make poutine, and most famously, Canada's abiding love of robots.
A robotic life form in America will find itself under siege, but in the Great White North, it will be embraced. It seems this affinity for code-based beings is creeping slowly into the Canadian workplace. A recent survey found that a quarter of Canadians believe that a computer program could perform better than their human boss.
The study, performed by Intensions, a Vancouver consulting firm, surveyed 2,299 adult Canadians (over the age of 20) over the last six months and found that 26% of Canadians "believe an unbiased computer program would be more trustworthy and ethical than their workplace leaders and managers."
That number was slightly higher, 31%, among a slightly younger subset, workers between the ages 20 and 39.
Of course that's not all the survey about the "future of work" found: it also showed that 22% of Canadians agreed either somewhat or strongly that "workplace leaders and managers are becoming unnecessary," while 23% thought that their jobs were at risk of being replaced by technology (defined here as "computers, robots, software").
Nick Black, the Managing Partner at Intensions told me that the results regarding the perceived ethical abilities of a program-as-manager were "not surprising…given, perhaps, the extent of trust in technology." He added that past studies Intensions had done showed high trust in Google by Canadians, and that most of the biases in organizations are "human-bred biases" that a computer could perhaps do away with.
Putting aside the fact that programs can and do perpetuate the biases of their programmers, Black's point echoes a common argument for robot bosses: they'll take care of the management so we can deal with the human stuff.
Within the world of Canadian Robot-Labor politics, though, there's an interesting wrinkle: while 26% of those surveyed thought a program would be more trustworthy and ethical, only 21% would actually prefer to be managed by that unbiased computer program. (Apparently, 5% of the survey takers think their bosses' biases are working in their favor.)
Not content with sheer, cold numbers, and having access (through Facebook) to various youngish Canadian citizens, I put out a deeply, profoundly unscientific call for responses about how people felt about the prospect of a robot boss:
One friend viscerally but unhelpfully reacted, "Holy shit people hate their flesh bag bosses," before saying nothing else. Others were more helpful/Canadian, and their answers tracked the data. Of five (self-selected) people I chatted with, only one (or 20%) would opt for a robot boss.
Simon, who's 25, told me:
I think I would prefer a human boss. A robot boss would never fail to notice all of my shortcomings and errors. And unlike my human boss, a robot boss could not be charmed into forgiving them. I pretty much rely on the short memory of my human boss(es).
Imogen, who's 27, was less concerned with memory and more with empathy:
I think that the most important thing in a boss is emotional intelligence, and I don't know if robots have that yet.
Chris, 28, was similarly concerned:
Most of the primary human contact I have comes from seeing people in the workplace. Yes, people are messy and complicated and have bad days, and make inconsistent decisions, but ultimately, I can relate to that because I also make bad decisions sometimes. I would rather keep open one of the main avenues for contact with another person than cede that to the robots. Right now, I see the people I work with 10 hours a day. They have complicated feelings, but also mercy and jokes and compliments. I would miss all of that too much.
Ana, who's 24, questioned whether a program can be ethical:
In the past most of my bosses have been pretty nice people, and i don't ever think I could enjoy working for a robot. Also, what's trustworthy or ethical about an algorithm?
The sole exception was this 24-year-old friend who explained very diplomatically why he would prefer a robot giving him orders.
Using the words of the study: I think "an unbiased computer program would be more trustworthy and ethical." I think [my current boss] is a fun boss, just completely untrustworthy and very unethical.
What can be learned from these responses? Nothing scientific, it's a handful of Canadians I talked to on Facebook! But, as with all fuzzy-non scientific questioning based on statistical surveys, there's a gist we can take away from it—in this case that people, even young, computer-friendly Canadians, want their bosses to empathize, hang out and be quasi-emotionally available. Unless your ethical program and/or robot is Mr. Butlertron, it might not pass muster for that.
And besides, three quarters of Canadian adults still think a program would be less ethical and trustworthy than a human. The True North Strong and Free is still mostly made up of Sarah Connors.
Ethan Chiel is a reporter for Fusion, writing mostly about the internet and technology. You can (and should) email him at firstname.lastname@example.org