Britons lack confidence that AI can be developed and regulated responsibly

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
November 01, 2023, 11:54 AM GMT+0

Public attitudes on artificial intelligence tend to be neutral to pessimistic

With the UK hosting the AI Safety Summit this week, the media is once again replete with warnings about the threats the technology poses to the future of the human race.

For all the apocalyptic focus when AI appears on the front pages, only 18% of Britons say their first thought when the topic of AI comes up is to do with the risks the technology poses to humanity’s survival. Instead, the topic is far more likely to conjure up thoughts about the impact on everyday life, like jobs and society (50%) – indeed the Trades Union Congress today warned Rishi Sunak not to lose sight of the “here and now” threats AI poses to people’s jobs.

These figures are essentially the same as they were when we previously asked in May (indeed, attitudes across all questions in this survey have remained constant over the last six months).

That’s not to say that Britons spend a lot of time thinking versing themselves in the issues around AI, however. Just 7% say they think they have a “great deal” of understanding about what artificial intelligence is, and 6% think they have a great deal of understanding of the issues surrounding the topic.

Around four in ten (37-40%) think they have a fair grasp on these things, but around half (49-54%) say they have little to none.

Older Britons are far less likely to feel a great or fair amount of engagement on the topic (34-36% of the over-65s) than their younger counterparts (55-63% of 18-24 year olds).

Few Britons are optimistic about artificial intelligence

Overall, expectations for AI tend from neutral (35%) to pessimistic (35%). Only 16% of Britons are optimistic about the impact artificial intelligence will have.

This lack of optimism may be spurred by Britons’ very low expectations of tech companies and regulators. Just 18% think that the technology companies that are developing AI will do so responsibly.

Likewise, despite calls by prominent tech figures like Elon Musk and OpenAI boss Sam Altman for governments to create regulatory bodies for AI development, just 14% of Britons have confidence in the ability of current and future UK governments to effectively regulate the development and use of AI.

These low expectations are cross-party; only 17% of Tory voters and 13% of Labour voters alike have confidence that British governments will be able to handle AI.

Those who are most optimistic about the impact AI will have are divided on tech companies, with 50% confident they will be responsible compared to 45% who lack this confidence. Most (58%) still lack confidence in governments’ regulatory abilities, however. Those who are neither optimistic nor pessimistic, or outright pessimistic, overwhelmingly have low confidence in both tech firms and regulators.

See the full results here

Photo: Getty

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