Britons think artificial intelligence will cost jobs… but not their own

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
May 19, 2023, 12:39 PM GMT+0

Six in ten expect more jobs will be lost to robotics and AI than will be created

BT will reportedly be shedding up to 55,000 jobs by the end of the decade with up to a fifth replaced by technologies including artificial intelligence.

The results of a new YouGov poll show that almost two thirds of Britons (64%) believe “more jobs will be lost to automation by robotics/AI than will be created”, with a mere 7% expecting they will create more opportunities than they close down. One in eight (12%) expect numbers will remain about the same, while 17% are unsure.

Among workers themselves, 62% expect more jobs to be lost than gained. Yet when they are asked whether jobs like their own will primarily be done by humans or by robots or AI 30 years from now, the majority (59%) still see a human future. Only a quarter (25%) expect their line of work to become dominated by machines.

Likewise, few workers say they are worried about the impact that robotics or artificial intelligence will have on their current job (14%) or their future career (22%).

Younger workers – who have much more career still to get through – are unsurprisingly more likely to be worried than those who are on the cusp of aging out of working life. Even so, 18-24 year old workers are still more likely to be unworried (48%) than worried (36%), including only 7% who are “very worried”.

Among those workers who specifically think that more jobs will be lost to automation than will be created, 65% say they aren’t worried about the impact on their own career.

How much do Britons think they understand about AI?

Half of Britons say they either know a great deal (7%) or a fair amount (44%) about what artificial intelligence is, while 41% say they don’t know very much and 5% say they know nothing at all.

Slightly fewer people (41%) claim to know much about “the issues surrounding artificial intelligence”.

As is generally the case in opinion polls, men are more likely than women to claim greater knowledge, and in this case younger people are more likely to feel they have a grip on the topic than their elders.

When it comes to the overall impact that artificial intelligence will have, Britons are more likely to be pessimistic (35%) than optimistic (19%), with a further 34% saying they are neither optimistic or pessimistic.

The more familiar a person feels they are with the issues surrounding AI, the more likely they are to have either optimistic or pessimistic expectations for the technology – although the optimistic side grows far more rapidly with awareness. While only 5% of those who confess no understanding of the issues around AI say they are optimistic about the tech, fully 28% have a negative view. Among those who consider themselves to have a great deal of understanding, there is a 35pt increase to 40% with an optimistic view, compared to a 15pt increase to 43% holding a negative view.

Most Britons lack confidence in tech companies and government on AI

Earlier this week, the CEO of OpenAI (the firm which owns ChatGPT) told a US Congress hearing that AI could “cause significant harm to the world”, expressing willingness to work with lawmakers regarding his own company’s technology, and made a number of proposals for how to regulate artificial intelligence.

The British public is, however, sceptical that those able to influence the future of AI can be trusted to do so.

Two thirds of Britons say they have little to no confidence that technology companies that are developing AI will do so responsibly (66%), or in the ability of current and future UK governments to effectively regulate the development and use of AI (68%).

Expectations are dramatically different depending on how optimistic or pessimistic people are about AI. Fully 52% of those who are optimistic about the impact artificial intelligence will have say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in tech companies to develop the technology responsibly – although far fewer have the same level of faith in the government’s ability to regulate it effectively (36%).

Among those with pessimistic expectations for AI, just 5% have much confidence in either group.

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