Whilst watching an advert for the new ‘Humans’ Channel 4 TV show about artificial intelligence (AI) which aired on Sunday, it occurred to me that I know very little about the progress of robots, despite keeping up to date with the news. So after spending some time reading up on the topic, I decided to discover whether I’m in the minority for not, or whether the general public as a whole needs clarification on the progress of AI.
Is it safe for us to create machines with higher intellectual levels than us? Have we been misinformed by films about robots gone wrong? Are we going to lose our jobs to robots? When can I have a robot to do my laundry for me?
Onepoll conducted a nationally representative survey of 1000 UK adults, and it turns out that I am not alone.
The survey found that only 1 in 10 people claimed to know a lot about artificial intelligence with men feeling they knew more about AI than women. This lack of knowledge, as expected stretched to specific AI terminology, such as ‘singularity’. Despite it being an important theory behind AI, ¾ of people didn’t know the definition of singularity, which is the moment when intelligence becomes non-biological and more powerful than it is today.
Although many of the respondents didn’t have extensive knowledge of AI, 29% of people are interested to know more. 3 in 10 stated that they like the robots we currently have, such as those used in car manufacturing or the Honda Assimo robot. R2D2 and Wall-E came out top as people’s favourite fictional robots.
Ray Kurzweil, a leading AI expert (Google’s Director of Engineering) predicts that computers will have become more intelligent than humans by 2029. However, almost 8 in 10 of the public believe it will take longer!
44% of young adults (18-24) stated that they’re afraid of robots becoming more intelligent than humans. However only 22% of over 55s had this opinion. But why the difference? Is it that over 55s don’t believe robots will surpass our level of intelligence, or is it that people of their generation simply haven’t considered AI as an issue? Or maybe they know something younger people don’t? Sneaky!
As well as the fear of increasing robot intelligence, almost 4 in 10 people are frightened of AI machines turning against the human race. Is this a genuine risk or is this just a result of ‘evil robot’ films such as iRobot, Transformers and Terminator? Professor Stephen Hawking’s recent comments that he believes artificial intelligence could threaten the existence of humans certainly suggests that AI is dangerous, meaning that there may be a genuine cause for concern.
The public also appear to have reservations about AI robots replacing workers – over half of respondents stated they are afraid of losing their jobs to robots. But what about robotics in industry generally? Almost 50% of the public don’t think we should use robots as weapons, and almost 3 in 10 people said they should be banned from working around children or in customer service. 30% of females felt we should be spending less on developing AI, as opposed to only 15% of males.
Opinions of robots were not wholly negative, despite people’s concerns. People do appear to recognise the possible benefits of AI robots.
These are the top 5 perceived benefits of artificial intelligence:
1. Advances in medicine- 54%
2. Production- 40%
3. Industry- 39%
4. Space Travel- 38%
5. Increasing quality of life- 34%
Furthermore respondents commented that robots:
‘Are very useful to humans’
‘Are useful in the right hands’
‘Many benefits in medicine can be had’
One respondent, possibly the 1 in 10 that knew a lot about AI, stated that ‘It will be a great achievement when the singularity is reached. Artificial intelligence has endless positive applications if implemented correctly. Surely advanced AI will enable humanity to enrich itself.’
Overall, however, it seemed that there were more negative opinions of robots and AI than there were positive.
For example some respondents had the following negative opinions:
‘I am suspicious of it’
‘I think it is going to happen whether we like it or not’
‘Could become dangerous’
‘The public is extremely misinformed’
‘We should be afraid of Google’
It is clear from these results that knowledge on artificial intelligence needs improvement, and opinions are at times divided. The results also suggest that there is an increasing disconnect between the public and the engineers and scientists involved in artificial intelligence progression. It is my belief that the public should be better informed on the progress of AI, as it could shape the future of the human race.
Personally, I can’t decide how I feel about AI. For now, I will trust the AI experts, and hope that ‘iRobot’ doesn’t become a reality, at least in my lifetime.