Americans have an irrational fear of artificial intelligence, or AI, and this is compromising our ability to lead the direction this revolutionary technology takes in the future. Precipitated by Hollywood’s fondness for movies that show machines taking over the world, this irrational fear of AI is allowing the competition — mainly China, which does not share this type of fear — to charge ahead in converting new breakthroughs into thousands of useful and commercially viable products.

These are opportunities we are failing to fully exploit. AI implementation in everyday life is already a given, and our competitors, particularly in Asia, forge ahead unperturbed by the alleged threat posed by robots.

It’s no coincidence that the kind of science fiction created in Asian pop culture frequently features benign and, at times even heroic, robotic and AI-informed characters. This is nothing new. Japan’s first famous cartoon about a robot, “Tetsuwan Atomu,” dates from 1951. Its name in Japanese refers to its atomic heart. There’s something telling about a culture willing to embrace a character with a nuclear heart just a few short years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

No such cultural examples exist in the West. AI and robotics in science fiction here are rarely depicted in a positive light. Robots that have somehow developed autonomous consciousness tend to be in conflict with humans, and the “machine” is often portrayed as the enemy. In reality, the relationship between man and robot is tilted almost entirely in our favor. We build them to perform tasks, and they obey — we are the ones in control.

In countries such as China, where the government, business community and public consider AI to be just another technology to enhance quality of life, new robotic applications are routinely introduced into every sector of the economy and social scene. No doubt there are some potentially controversial applications of the technology that raise public concerns. Recent debates surrounding AI and robotics for autonomous vehicles and for decision-making in financial services, education and the media all introduce their own unique sets of questions.

I am not defending or condemning the application of AI in every situation. What I will say, however, is that the introduction of driverless cars, robots with final say on your loan application and pretty much every other new application proposed is met with the now predictable knee-jerk skepticism — be it AI for warfare, health care or day care.

The technology is far from perfect. But neither are we, which is why the dangers posed by human bias, not to mention human error, that have been built into autonomous systems are challenges we must overcome while resisting the temptation to condemn AI outright. Human bias may be impeding a clear view of the benefits of AI and robotics.

Robots could help solve major macroeconomic challenges, such as the boom/bust economic cycle we reluctantly accept as something out of our control. Social progress might also be made if authentically pragmatic decision-makers were to address issues such as racial discrimination, gender and wealth inequality. AI and robotics can help us live longer, be healthier and provide mobility and physical dexterity to those restricted through illness or injury.

Fear of the unknown is a necessary evolutionary trait. It helps protect us from danger. Perhaps this is why less energy is spent making movies about the more realistic scenario in which robots remind us of the importance of human values such as compassion, equality and fairness. But fear also leads us to missed opportunities. The vast majority of engineers and scientists such as myself who have devoted their careers to advancing robotics and AI research do so with one fundamental goal in mind: to develop robots that serve to enrich the human experience, not diminish it.

Luis Sentis is an associate professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics and leads the Human-Centered Robotics Laboratory in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.