The public would prefer slower AI development, poll reveals

August 18, 2023

Poll AI

A recent AI Policy Institute poll conducted by YouGov found that the majority of US adults want to slam the brakes on AI’s rapid progression.

AI’s meteoric rise shows no signs of abatement, with investors plowing money into the technology. A landscape once dominated by Microsoft and Google is now home to a broad range of startups, including Anthropic and Inflection, which both have significant backing. 

Meta’s approach has been slightly differentiated, cementing its position as a disruptive force in AI economics – as its open-source models are freely accessible for research and commercial use. 

Tech leaders have a tremendous appetite for forging forth into our AI-infused future, with OpenAI’s CEO Sam Altman stating in an interview with The Atlantic, “If you are a person of a liberal-democratic country, it is better for you to cheer on the success of OpenAI” instead of “authoritarian governments.”

Brad Smith from Microsoft emphasized the competitive aspect, suggesting that pausing might allow countries like China to take the lead in AI. Similarly, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said those who don’t adapt to AI will be left behind. 

The AI market principles are also ramping up hardware purchases to train bigger, better models, with hundreds of thousands of high-end Nvidia chips being exchanged with the US, China, and Gulf states

Public views fail to align with tech leaders

Amidst this frenzy, poll data shows people don’t necessarily share big tech’s fervor. In fact, a hefty 72% of American voters lean towards a slower AI development trajectory. 

The poll consisted of 1,001 Americans from a diverse demographic in terms of political affiliations, albeit a majority of the participants were white and without a college degree.

Here are the poll’s findings:

  • 72% of voters advocate for slower AI development, contrasting with the mere 8% favoring hastening it.
  • A significant 62% express apprehension about AI, overshadowing the 21% who feel enthusiastic.
  • 86% foresee potential AI-triggered catastrophes, and 70% believe that minimizing AI extinction risks is as crucial as other global threats like pandemics and nuclear warfare.
  • 82% of voters don’t trust tech executives regarding AI regulation. 
  • 76% view AI as a potential existential threat, with close agreement between 75% of Democrats and 78% of Republicans.

AI researcher and Anthropic CEO Jack Clark found these results noteworthy, commenting, “These results are interesting because they appear to show a divergence between elite opinion and popular opinion.” 

Further, the AI Policy Institute’s poll shed light on the public’s trust in AI companies’ attempts to self-regulate. 

Indeed, many are wondering whether AI leaders like Sam Altman are sincere when they discuss ethics and safety guardrails, considering that lawsuits are racking up and question marks remain about the legitimacy of training data. 

Sarah Myers West from the AI Now Institute wasn’t surprised, stating, “I think people have learned from the past decade of tech-enabled crises,” pointing out the evident flaws in self-regulation.

Others criticize self-regulation as a veiled attempt to subjugate open-source AI, which threatens big tech’s newfound burgeoning market. 

One thing is certain: big tech isn’t slowing down, with companies like Nvidia and Inflection planning to build a vast AI training stack of 22,000 Nvidia GPUs. 

OpenAI has filed trademarks for GPT-5, and right now, the only way is up – or, as some might view it, down.

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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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