Survey on AI shows more Americans approve than disapprove it

Posted Jan 10, 2019 by Ken Hanly
Artificial Intelligence is likely to be one of the defining technologies of this century. It will no doubt affect everything from warfare to health care to jobs. A recent survey gauges attitudes within the U.S. public to AI.
The use of artificial intelligence was highlighted at the four-day Web Summit in Lisbon
The use of artificial intelligence was highlighted at the four-day Web Summit in Lisbon
While more Americans were in favor of AI than opposed, opinions were mixed and varied from one group to another.
The survey
The report describes itself as follows: "This report is based on findings from a nationally representative survey conducted by the Center for the Governance of AI, housed at the Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford, using the survey firm YouGov. The survey was conducted between June 6 and 14, 2018, with a total of 2,000 American adults (18+) completing the survey. "
The authors claim they were more interested in breadth than depth in the study. Questions touch on numerous issues such as workplace automation, international cooperation, public trust in various actors to develop and regulate AI and many others. While the results give some preliminary insights into the nature of U.S. opinion on AI, the study raises more questions than it answers. More work is needed to gain a deeper understanding of U.S. public opinion to AI, and the authors recommend caution in interpreting the results.
General attitude to AI
The survey described AI as "computer systems that perform tasks or make decision that usually require human intelligence". 41 percent of respondents said they somewhat or strongly supported the development of AI. On the other hand 22 percent said they somewhat or strongly opposed it. However, 28 percent said they had no strong feeling one way or the other.
Relation of attitude to demographics
Young, educated, and male individuals were most likely to favor AI development. 57 percent of college graduates were in favor of AI but in contrast only 29 percent of those with high school education or less were in favor of AI development.
On some issues there was a strong consensus among groups, for example on regulation. 82 percent of those questioned somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement "robots and artificial intelligence are technologies that require careful management." Respondents ranked data privacy as one of the most important governance challenges but also ranked cyberattacks and autonomous weapons as also quite important.
No consensus on who should limit AI development
University researchers were the most trusted with 50 percent of respondents reporting a fair amount of confidence or a great deal of confidence in them. However, the US military came a close second with 49 percent trusting them. Tech companies had a 44 percent trust level. Facebook however had a poor rating with 4 in 10 saying they had no trust in the company to regulate AI.
Other issues
On the question of whether AI should develop high-level machine intelligence with the common sense ability of a human, there were mixed answers. Fully 29 percent of respondents neither supported nor opposed the development. 31 percent said they somewhat or strongly support the development while 27 percent were opposed.
On the relative importance of AI issues as a global risk out of 15 issues, AI was judged to be relatively low. Nuclear issues or recessions were ranked much higher. However failure to act on climate change was also ranked low. Terrorist acts, infectious diseases were also ranked relatively high as possible problems in the next ten years.