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02:22 - Source: CNN Business
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More Americans said they are “more concerned than excited” by the increase of artificial intelligence technology being implemented in daily life, according to a Pew Research Center survey about the rise of AI.

Although there was a more positive outlook for facial recognition, algorithms and exoskeletons, the public was much more wary about the use of computer chip implants in the brain, the future of autonomous passenger vehicles and gene editing.

The researchers surveyed 10,260 US adults from November 1 through November 7. Respondents were asked about six developments: facial recognition technology, social media algorithms, robotic exoskeletons, computer chip implants, driverless cars and gene editing.

About 45% said they were equally concerned and excited about the rise of AI. Reasons for concern included potential job loss, privacy implications and a loss of human connection. However, those who welcomed the new technology said it will save time and boost efficiency, especially in the workplace.

“This kind of public opinion work brings ordinary people’s voices into the development facilities where these things are happening,” said Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of internet and technology research. “Adding everyone’s voice to thinking about these things will help people make good policy around them and help technologists understand where the public is coming from when these technologies roll out into their lives.”

Facial recognition technology used by police was met with a mostly positive reaction, as 46% of adults said it would be good for society.

Social media companies’ use of AI to find false information was supported by 38% of respondents, while 31% thought the opposite.

Social media companies use AI to do things like determine what content users see and what ad each user would like. They have even used it to monitor misinformation, as seen during the 2020 presidential election. However, the survey found that most believed it aided in censorship, and only 1 in 10 adults thought people had control over what they see on these platforms.

About 33% of people supported the use of robotic exoskeletons with built-in AI systems to boost strength for manual labor jobs, while 24% did not.

These devices have been considered as aids for people who might not have a complete range of motion. This survey focused on their use for manual labor, and 42% of respondents were not sure how they would affect society. Young adults ages 18 to 29 were more excited than older respondents, specifically when it came to the idea of enhancing physical strength and visual abilities.

When it comes to human abilities, 56% of those surveyed said computer chip implants in the brain are a bad idea for widespread use, and 78% said they would not want one for themselves, even if it could improve how quickly they process information.

An equal percentage of people (30%) were for and against gene editing to reduce a baby’s risk of a serious health condition.

“People are sort of nuanced and somewhat discriminating in their views. They don’t just have blanket judgments that they make about AI or human enhancement,” Rainie said. “They’re really judging each application on its own terms.”

How demographics played a role

The researchers noted some demographic differences in regard to each development and said it’s because they judged the fairness and efficacy of AI application.

“Public opinion is not just about an up or down on the technology,” said Cary Funk, Pew’s director of science and society research. “It’s a judgment around how that technology is being used.”

About 48% of Black adults said police would use facial recognition to monitor Black and Hispanic neighborhoods more often than other areas.

Hispanic or Black adults were more likely than White adults to support the use of algorithms to make final decisions for job interviews, parole and medical treatments. And Black adults (73%) were more likely than White (65%) or Hispanic adults (63%) to say companies should consider race when developing programs on social media.

Beyond race, men were more than twice as likely as women to say the use of exoskeletons for manual labor would be a good idea.

The survey also found that Republicans were particularly opposed to social media algorithms. Seven in 10 Americans believed political viewpoints were being censored due to algorithms on the platforms.

Rainie said the differences in viewpoints were particularly interesting.

“There was a lot of opinion that White Americans and men were relatively well-treated and relatively well-understood in these programs. Not nearly the same level of affirmation and confidence was given that these developers were taking into account the views and experiences of Black Americans, Hispanics, women and Asian Americans,” he said.

What the future holds

AI is a developing technology, hastened by the pandemic.

“I think it’s too early to say how people will look in the rearview mirror later as we get more out of this pandemic. But these developments started before the pandemic, and they’ve kind of accelerated, especially in the land of AI,” Funk said.

As workplaces and the culture of work changes, many technology companies have begun to “accelerate the deployment of AI,” she said. AI makes their businesses more efficient and can substitute for workers.

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The pandemic has also played a role in how people view the institutions behind these AI and human advancement technologies. The researchers want to figure out how the science and technology will affect society.

Rainie believes that, over time, these developments will roll out into broader use and be used in business, health care and everyday life. This survey was the first step in figuring out what a future with AI means, he said.

“There are ways in which people are cautious, but they can envision ways where these technologies can be rolled out into the culture with some boundaries and restrictions placed on them,” Rainie said.