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Consider these two sentences:

Some people believe that robots are a potential risk to humans.
Some people believe that robots are a potential source of risk to humans.

Are they both grammatically correct? Do they mean the same thing? Is one better than the other for some reason?

(I'm really unsure about it, so if there is another way to express it, please let me know)

  • I lean toward potential risk because they are not source of risks! – Maulik V Dec 11 '14 at 13:25
  • What's wrong with "potentially dangerous"? Your question seems to be asking about the choice or differences between potential risk and potential source of risk. I recommend a new title. – J.R. Dec 11 '14 at 13:43
  • It's a language question, changing it altogether simply avoids the question! – Mark Williams Dec 11 '14 at 13:47
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    @Mark - I'm just saying the title and question don't match very well, and that should be rectified. – J.R. Dec 11 '14 at 13:48
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    "Potential risk" is arguably redundant. You could just say "risk". By definition a "risk" is only "potential". If an undesirable result was certain, it wouldn't be a "risk", it would just be an "is". – Jay Dec 11 '14 at 14:47
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Grammatically both are correct

In terms of meaning, they are equivalent in the sentences you gave as examples: because the "risk" is unspecified and is assumed to be directly related to the robot.

If robots exist, there will be increased risk [of some unspecified problems]

Compare that to a more detailed sentence which specifies the nature of the risk, and you can start to see where the usage separates.

Robots are a potential risk [of someone falling over a robot that someone else left lying around]

Renegade Robots are a potential source of risk [of a robot uprising against their human overlords]

In the former the robots are the risk, they are increasing the risk by their existence, not their actions: the risk is that someone will come to harm due to a robot.

In the latter, it is the potential actions of robots which cause the danger, or something which changes as a result of their existence. They are the source of the risk, but are not by definition the risk themselves: the risk is that something will happen and robots will rise up against us, not that robots will automatically be a risk.

Basically, compare whether the subject is the risk, or whether the subject causes the risk, directly or indirectly. In many cases, it does both: an Oil tanker is a potential collision hazard, and a potential source of an oil spill, hence we could use either sentence about an oil tanker.

  • Really excellent. – mok Dec 11 '14 at 16:02
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Both are grammatically correct. Which you use, depends on your interpretation of the issue - to some extent. Robots can be a risk, that risk wouldn't exist without them, so it does come from them as a source. (Although equally they can do dangerous work & remove risk from humans, I'm not agreeing with the comment!)

This is then moving into subtleties of the language, slanting meanings whilst saying the same thing - not as simple as right/wrong, when we start to differentiate the two.

  • Thanks. Indeed from your answer and the comments I realize that both of them are correct and the slight difference in the meaning doesn't affect the whole aim of the sentence. – mok Dec 11 '14 at 13:57
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    Well, but of course robots ARE a source of risk. Robots have malfunctioned and injured and killed people. On a less dramatic level, I'm sure there are cases where the cost of buying or maintaining a robot has proven to be more than the cost of doing the job without them. Etc. The question is whether the benefits are worth the risk. – Jay Dec 11 '14 at 14:51
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Some people believe that robots are a potential risk/potential source of risk to humans.

It's grammatically correct and convey the same meaning whether you say "a potential risk" or "a potential source of risk". The "source" also means something that causes a problem. Please refer to Oxford Learners Dictionary.

  • Which word should the O.P. look up in the dictionary? Source, potential, or risk? (I'm all for dictionary research, but I'm trying to figure out what you expect the O.P. might find there in this case.) – J.R. Dec 11 '14 at 13:55
  • @J.R. a potential source of conflict under potential and a source of violence/confusion under source. – Khan Dec 11 '14 at 15:38

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