A new expert report on AI sentiment among the public finds that the industry has a lot of work to do to explain the technology’s benefits – not with marketing hype, but with real-world examples and proof. Chris Middleton reports.
Consumers lack understanding about artificial intelligence (AI) and are looking to businesses, government, and academia for hard facts, according to a new report.
This lack of insight into the technology is fuelling fears about its potential impact, the report found, while the industry isn’t helping its own cause by making bold claims about AI without providing verifiable evidence.
The Fleishman Hillard report, Artificial Intelligence & Communications: The Fads. The Fears. The Future, surveyed consumers across the US and UK about their current sentiments on AI. The corporate communications company also sought the views of a panel of 25 global experts in the fields of AI and robotics.
More than half of consumers (56 percent) believe that AI needs more regulation and restriction. However, with proper consumer education, these concerns may be tempered, suggests the report.
The study found a strong appetite for more knowledge, with 53 percent of respondents saying they believe that education about the positive roles that AI could play in society needs to improve.
Sixty-one percent of all those surveyed believe that responsibility for educating the public about the technology should be shared between key stakeholders in business, government, and academia – in short by the very experts that are driving (or hyping) this change.
“The universal takeaway is that if the technology industry is to build public trust, we need to address the AI knowledge gap fast,” says the report.
“It’s not enough to build the AI system, product, or solution. We need to take an active role in helping consumers understand what AI is, how it works, and its implications.”
Millennials were the only age group that believes there is enough education on the technology’s impact, according to the report.
The report’s panel of experts share the view that the dangers of AI and robotics are being wildly overstated by the popular press.
“One overhyped trend is worrying about the possibility of malevolent robot overlords, which makes for good science fiction, but is a poor basis for public policy discussions,” said Victoria Espinel, president and CEO of the BSA (The Software Alliance).
“We need to make sure that governments are making decisions that are grounded in the reality of the science that underlies AI, as opposed to speculative concerns.”
“The most overhyped AI trend of the last few years is that AI will replace human intelligence,” added SAP’s Rita Marini. “Although AI is set to explore some new avenues and significantly impact how it performs human functions, AI can perform only when it is triggered with logic fed to it by human intelligence.”
The perceived notion that AI will decimate certain jobs is wide of the mark, said Jeroen Tas, chief information and strategy officer at Philips. “While we live in a world where we’re increasingly dependent on technology, I don’t see any dystopian mass exodus of any jobs in the near future.
“AI can help address the huge increase in the demand for care and augment the capabilities of clinicians to help their patients. New roles will be created that generations to come will grow up around, creating a new normal.”
Dr Joseph Reger, CTO EMEIA at Fujitsu concurred, saying, “While AI will certainly change the labour landscape, it will not necessarily be all in one direction. Just like many other major advances in technology, AI will create new roles in society as well as change existing ones.”
Lack of hard evidence
However, the industry is letting people down by making such claims without providing verifiable, concrete examples, suggested Charlie Oliver, CEO of Tech 2025 and Mission AI.
“Anytime we say to the public, ‘AI will create millions of jobs’, we should be challenged to give specific examples of what those jobs are, how people should train for them today, and who will pay for this training,” she said.
“If these questions can’t be answered, then assuring the public that millions of jobs will be created not only rings hollow to them, it contributes to their fear of AI.
“Additionally, we should challenge the public to define the world beyond traditional work instead of asking them to focus on the very thing that too often defines their identity and purpose.
This conversation gives us the permission to ask what kind of post-AI society we want. This isn’t a conversation for 2025. The time is now to have this public discourse.”
Dangers from industry itself
Indeed, while being critical of the media hysteria about Terminators and mass unemployment as AI and automation sweep through every type of career and industry, some of the dangers come from the industry’s own marketing focus, said some of the expert panel.
“A common misconception is that all business challenges can be solved with AI. While it can solve a variety of problems, it is not the solution for every issue. There’s still a knowledge gap when it comes to AI and what sets of problems it can address,” said Mavin Gilbert, VP of Advanced Technology at AT&T.
“Bringing the discussion back to solving real problems… whilst clearly stating the limitations, would allow for more productive conversation,” agreed Lanre Ibitoye, head of Platforms and Capabilities at Teva Pharma.
“There has been disproportionate attention given to ‘general artificial intelligence’,” added Jean-Francois Gagné, CEO of Element AI. “It’s not that these aren’t possibilities down the road, but all the attention disrupts the educational challenge we face with regards to ‘narrow AI’ and its current possibilities and risks.”
“Over the years, AI has been used as a catch-all term for any intelligent use of data, with companies over-using the word for many different things,” said Javier Sesmä, general manager at Thyssenkrupp Elevator.
In short, jumping on the hype bandwagon can be highly misleading if a product or service barely qualifies as AI in the first place.
More plusses than minuses
Yet despite people’s fears – and the critical narrative about AI in the popular press – 45 percent of the survey’s consumer respondents agree, or strongly agree, that the positive aspects of AI outweigh the negative, with 49 percent saying that AI is an exciting and exhilarating topic, and that automation will change our lives and jobs for the better.
However, the public is less certain about whether AI is actually having much of an impact. While nearly half believe in the technology’s future promise, only 31 percent of respondents feel that they have already experienced the benefits; while 40 percent report seeing no difference at all.
A majority of respondents in both the US (59 percent) and UK (51 percent) reported encountering or using AI technologies on at least a monthly basis. Out of respondents aged 18 to 44, over half reported using AI weekly, and the group made up over 80 percent of those who use AI every day.
These statistics make for an intriguing contrast when set alongside the less than one-third who believe that they are currently seeing any positive benefits.
• When asked to say which sectors will be most disrupted by AI over the next five years, respondents picked communications (81 percent), healthcare (74 percent), consumer and home technologies (72 percent), and social media and networking (61 percent). Financial and professional services came fifth and sixth, respectively, while food and agriculture was ranked as the least likely to be affected.
- Read more: Bringing home the bacon: Alibaba brings AI platform to pig farming
- Read more: Agtech: How robotics could dig farmers out of Brexit hole
Internet of Business says
An intriguing array of findings, which suggest that people are aware of AI, many encounter it regularly, and yet few – less than one-third – are experiencing tangible benefits from it.
One reason may be found in another recent report, which suggested that many organisations are mainly implementing AI and automation for internal cost-cutting purposes, rather than to make the lives of their customers better – despite evidence from other studies that AI can underpin customer loyalty if applied strategically, rather than tactically for short-term advantage.
The serious problem of overhyped dangers – which is readily apparent from popular press coverage about AI and robotics – should be set alongside another problem, therefore: overhyped benefits. Indeed, it’s refreshing to read an AI advocate and insider saying that the industry needs to step up with hard evidence, or risk adding to popular fears about the technology.
But while the report’s authors should be commended for its breadth of coverage, the document suffers by itself only presenting partial evidence. For example, if 45 percent of people believe that the benefits of AI outweigh the risks, why is there no further breakdown of statistics on the numbers who disagree or express no view?
The impression is that the report’s findings have been spun to create the most positive interpretation of the statistics – something of which the recent UK-RAS report on the public’s attitudes to robots was conspicuously guilty. In this regard, this corporate communications company is guilty of perpetuating a problem that it has identified in the industry, in its own report.