Technophobia is an irrational fear that can cause people to avoid new technology, including artificial intelligence, robots, and computers. This fear can stem from various factors, such as fear of the unknown, lack of knowledge or misconceptions about technology, and media that portrays doomsday scenarios where technology goes wrong or overpowers humans. As every new technology brings its own nightmare scenarios, artificial intelligence and robotics are no exceptions. In fact, the word “robot” was coined to describe a machine that could perform tasks autonomously, but it has since become associated with the fear of machines taking over human jobs and even the world.
Technophobia is not a clinical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but some clinicians treat it like a specific phobia. Specific phobias are irrational fears of a particular situation, object, animal, or interaction. The fear isn’t in proportion to the actual danger.
- Excessive preoccupation with avoiding new technology, such as delaying device upgrades or moving to tech-free areas.
- Physical symptoms like sweating and anxiety when using technology, difficulty focusing, negative attitudes towards technology, and feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression.
Causes of AI-Related Technophobia
AI has triggered a new wave of technophobia due to various factors, including the fear of loss, job displacement fears, and privacy concerns. The perception of AI as a sentient being out of human control is terrifying, a fear perpetuated by popular media and science fiction. Moreover, AI systems’ capabilities for data analysis, coupled with their lack of transparency, raise valid fears about privacy and surveillance.
AI and robots fuel new job displacement fears. By 2025, machines could displace about 85 million jobs — but create 97 million new roles “more adapted to the new division of labor between humans, machines, and algorithms,” according to a report by the World Economic Forum.
The potential for AI to be used to violate privacy is also a concern. AI systems require vast amounts of personal data, and if this data falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for nefarious purposes, such as identity theft or cyberbullying.
The issue of bias and discrimination is also a concern. AI systems can perpetuate and amplify existing biases, leading to unfair treatment of certain groups.
AI’s Potential to Fight Technophobia
It is ironic that while AI can be a source of technophobia, it can also be used to help people overcome it. Although there are no specific AI apps designed to exclusively treat technophobia, AI-powered mental health apps and platforms may offer features to help individuals manage anxiety, phobias, and stress, including those related to technology. These apps can provide support, education, relaxation exercises, and sometimes virtual reality exposure therapy to gradually expose individuals to the technology they fear in a controlled environment.
For example, the Youper app utilizes a blend of psychology and AI to understand users’ emotional requirements and engage in authentic conversations. A research article in the Journal of the American Medical Association recognized Youper as the leading interactive digital health solution for managing anxiety and depression.
Other examples of AI-based apps that can support mental health
Wysa is an AI-powered mental health app that provides anonymous and clinically validated support for people who need it. It offers immediate support as the first step of care, and human coaching for those who need more. Wysa’s AI chatbot creates an anonymous, safe space to work through worries and stressors, preventing them from escalating in severity and towards illness. The app offers on-demand self-care through 150+ evidence-based exercises, including resources for anxiety, sleep, handling difficult conversations, and improving productivity. Wysa has held over half a billion AI chat conversations with more than five million people about their mental health across 95 countries.
Woebot is another mental health chatbot and a mobile application that utilizes artificial intelligence and natural language processing to provide users with emotional support and tools for managing their mental well-being. Woebot is designed to engage users in conversational interactions, offering cognitive-behavioral techniques, mood tracking, and mindfulness exercises to help individuals cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Replika is an AI-powered chatbot companion that provides emotional support and conversation. It is designed to help users with stress, anxiety, and depression by offering four kinds of support: self-care, peer support, coaching, and therapy. The app is based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation, strategies shown to provide effective relief for mental health concerns including anxiety and depression. Replika has over 3 million users and is the top-rated app for stress, anxiety, and depression. You can download the app from the App Store or Google Play.
It is important to note that AI apps are not a cure for technophobia. However, they can be a valuable tool for people who are trying to overcome their fear of technology. Addressing technophobia often involves a multifaceted approach, including psychotherapy, medication, and adjustments in lifestyle.