Study shows that people often support AI despite skepticism about its safety

August 26, 2023

AI survey

Though people often doubt the trustworthiness of AI-enabled technologies, they also support their usage, particularly in sectors like police surveillance, according to a recent study published in PLOS One. 

The study explores a variety of factors, including the perceived effectiveness of AI and the “fear of missing out” (FOMO), which may lead individuals to endorse technologies despite initial skepticism.

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly developing across civilian and military applications,” noted study author Julie George from Stanford University’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI).

“It is important to study public opinion concerning support and trust levels of various AI-enabled technologies, especially in the United States context. By understanding the microfoundations of individuals’ beliefs on AI, we can better assess how AI is developed and used in society.”

To delve into public opinion on AI, the researchers developed a survey to evaluate preferences for different AI technologies across multiple sectors, such as armed drones, medical surgery, police surveillance, autonomous vehicles, and social media content moderation. 

Conducted between October 7 and 21, 2022, the survey collected responses from 1,008 US citizens.

People back AI despite harboring skepticism

Their findings illuminated a “trust paradox,” a term the researchers coined to describe the phenomenon where people endorse AI technologies despite doubts about their reliability. 

This paradox was especially significant in the context of police surveillance but was also noted in areas like drones, autonomous cars, medical surgeries, and social media content moderation.

Perceptions of how autonomous a technology was also influenced public support.

For instance, people were more inclined to back technologies featuring mixed-initiative autonomy, which allows for decision-making input from both humans and AI, compared to fully autonomous or fully human-controlled options.

Demographic factors also played a part in shaping attitudes. Older individuals showed less support and trust in AI technologies, while men generally exhibited higher levels of both.

In addition, higher education levels were positively correlated with support and trust, whereas conservatism showed a negative association.

“Our article shows that several underlying beliefs help account for public attitudes of support for artificial intelligence-enabled technologies,” George told PsyPost

She described these underlying beliefs: “Including the fear of missing out (FOMO), optimism that future versions of the technology will be more trustworthy, a belief that the benefits of AI-enabled technologies outweigh the risks, and calculation that AI-enabled technologies yield efficiency gains. Additional research could consider public opinion of AI beyond the United States.”

Another recent survey found that US adults would generally prefer a slower pace of development and don’t trust AI leaders.

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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