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“Scary Robots”: Examining Public Responses to AI

Conference Paper by Stephen Cave, Kate Coughlan, Kanta Dihal

“Scary Robots”: Examining Public Responses to AI

The Second AAAI / ACM Annual Conference on AI, Ethics, and Society, 26-28 January 2019, Hawaii USA

How AI is perceived by the public can have significant im-pact on how it is developed, deployed and regulated. Some commentators argue that perceptions are currently distorted or extreme. This paper discusses the results of a nationally representative survey of the UK population on their percep-tions of AI. The survey solicited responses to eight common narratives about AI (four optimistic, four pessimistic), plus views on what AI is, how likely it is to impact in respondents’ lifetimes, and whether they can influence it. 42% of respond-ents offered a plausible definition of AI, while 25% thought it meant robots. Of the narratives presented, those associated with automation were best known, followed by the idea that AI would become more powerful than humans. Overall re-sults showed that the most common visions of the impact of AI elicit significant anxiety. Only two of the eight narratives elicited more excitement than concern (AI making life easier, and extending life). Respondents felt they had no control over AI’s development, citing the power of corporations or gov-ernment, or versions of technological determinism. Negotiat-ing the deployment of AI will require contending with these anxieties.

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