The perceived risk of artificial intelligence is linked to people’s location and profession, according to a new study, with those in the West typically much more concerned about the technology.

In contrast, less than one in ten people in China say AI will be mostly harmful, and the majority believe it will be mostly helpful.

The University of Oxford’s Internet Institute analysed survey data from a risk poll of 154,195 participants living in 142 countries to assess their attitudes towards the development of AI over the coming decades for its report, Global Attitudes towards Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Automated Decision Making.

The findings vary significantly across regions. North Americans and Latin Americans are most skeptical about the benefits of AI, with more than 40 per cent believing AI will be harmful, whilst only 25 per cent of those living in South East Asia and just 11 per cent of those living in East Asia expressed similar concerns.

One outlier on perceived harm is China, according to the study. Just nine per cent of respondents believe AI will be mostly harmful, with 59 per cent of respondents saying it will mostly be beneficial. 

Source: Oxford Internet Institute

There is also significant variance based on the respondents’ profession. For example, a construction or manufacturing worker — from an industry widely expected to be disrupted by AI and automation — is likely to be much more anxious, with 42 per cent expecting it would be mostly harmful. Only 28 per cent of farmers, though, see AI as mostly harmful.

Business Executives and government officials are the most bullish about AI, with 47 per cent saying it will be mostly helpful versus 36 per cent saying mostly harmful.

Oxford Internet Institute researcher and lead author of the study, Lisa Maria-Neudert, said understanding public confidence in emerging technologies is vital to their implementation in government.

“Our analysis suggests that putting AI to work for good governance will be a two-fold challenge. Involving AI and machine learning systems in public administration is going to require inclusive design, informed procurement, purposeful implementation and persistent accountability. 

“Additionally, it will require convincing citizens in many countries around the world that the benefits of using AI in public agencies outweighs the risks.”

Because the data used in the study was taken from a survey which included relatively few questions about technology-related risk, the authors recommend further study to better understand drivers of the different perceptions of AI.

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