While the tech industry and the stock market enthusiastically back the emergence of artificial intelligence, the CNBC All-America Economic survey finds that the public has strong reservations, what you might call AI-anxiety.
The survey found that just 27% say they are comfortable with efforts “underway to develop computer programs that can mimic human thinking and possibly replace human activity in a number of areas.” Sixty-nine percent say they are very or somewhat uncomfortable, a 10-point jump from when the survey last asked the question in 2016.
As AI has crept more into the public conversation, and perhaps into daily usage, groups that once might have welcomed it are having second thoughts. In every single demographic group, majorities are now uncomfortable with AI, in some cases considerably more than they were in 2016. Professionals/managers were about split on it seven years ago. Now they are uncomfortable by a 29% margin. Americans in the 18-34 age group, once net positive on AI, are now net negative by 20 points. Americans with incomes less than $30,000 and with incomes greater than $75,000 alike have significantly greater discomfort with AI than in 2016.
The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted July 12-16 and has a margin of error of +/-3.1%.
Americans express discomfort with AI in several of the major places where they likely already or might soon encounter it. Sixty-six percent are uncomfortable with AI in customer service; 65% in medical diagnosis and 76% when it comes to self-driving cars.
The survey, however, did not find widespread concern among Americans about losing their job to a robot. Twenty-one percent said AI would likely make their job easier,while 18% thought AI could replace them at work; 10% thought it would make their job more difficult but 49% thought it would have no impact.
One question raised by the polling data: does the public’s discomfort with AI make it easier for lawmakers to regulate the industry and its use? And there’s the question of whether the public is right to be uncomfortable, or if what’s needed is more education about the potential benefits of AI.