A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans believe that AI and human enhancements via technology have the potential to improve daily life and human abilities. Yet public views are also cautiously defined by 1) the context of how these technologies would be used, 2) what constraints would be in place and 3) who would stand to benefit – or lose – if these advances become widespread.
Public caution is mostly centered around concerns about privacy, autonomy, unintended consequences and the amount of change these developments might mean for humans and society.
This survey looks at a broad arc of scientific and technological developments – some in use now, some still emerging. Three highlight the burgeoning array of AI applications: the use of facial recognition technology by police, the use of algorithms by social media companies to find false information on their sites and the development of driverless passenger vehicles.
Another three are often described as types of human enhancements, revolve around developments tied to the convergence of AI, biotechnology, nanotechnology and other fields. They raise the possibility of dramatic changes to human abilities in the future: computer chip implants in the brain to advance people’s cognitive skills, gene editing to greatly reduce a baby’s risk of developing serious diseases or health conditions, and robotic exoskeletons with a built-in AI system to greatly increase strength for lifting in manual labor jobs.
Americans are far more positive than negative about the widespread use of facial recognition technology by police to monitor crowds and look for people who may have committed a crime: 46% of U.S. adults think this would be a good idea for society, while 27% think this would be a bad idea and another 27% are unsure.
By narrower margins, more describe the use of computer algorithms by social media companies to find false information on their sites as a good rather than bad idea for society (38% vs. 31%), and the pattern is similar for the use of robotic exoskeletons with a built-in AI system to increase strength for manual labor jobs (33% vs. 24%).
The survey of 10,260 U.S. adults was conducted between Nov. 1 and 7, 2021. There are five key themes that run through people’s answers on these questions.
- Americans’ judgments about the potential impact of this set of applications are varied and, for portions of the public, marked by uncertainty. [Link to graphic]
- Less than half of the public believes these technologies would improve things over the way they are now. [Link to graphic]
- Americans see a need for higher standards to assess the safety of technologies on the horizon than are currently used. [Link to graphic]
- There are sharp partisan divisions when people think about possible government regulation of these new and developing technologies.
- There are mitigating steps people say would make these AI and human enhancement developments more acceptable. [Link to graphic]
Source: Pew Research