Artificial intelligence is heralded to be the singular, defining technology of the century. It impacts a wide-range of industries, organizations, and systems. From military uses, AI in recruiting, to healthcare, AI will underpin various processes within a few decades. Exploring attitudes of what the general public perceives or want from AI is essential.
AI is already set in more technologies than we realize. Sure, we can picture robots, virtual assistants, and super smart computers using AI. But the cutting-edge technology is already in features like Netflix’s movie recommendations and Facebook’s photo-tagging feature.
The general perception is that AI is considered less problematic than nuclear war or recessions. The Center for the Governance of AI, Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford created a survey and found AI was generally not perceived as a threat amongst global risks. For context, climate change was ranked lower than a threat from AI. Respondents viewed terrorist attacks, infectious diseases, and a global recession to be amongst the threats looming in the next 10 years.
Attitudes towards AI differ from country to country. We’ve chosen to compare the general attitudes and policy between the U.S., the EU, and China. This is not a comprehensive comparison, but rather a generalized overview.
41% percent of Americans said they somewhat or strongly supported the development of AI, while 22 percent said they somewhat or strongly opposed it. The remaining 28 percent said they had no strong feelings one way or the other. The survey defined AI as “computer systems that perform tasks or make decisions that usually require human intelligence.” In a survey by the Edelman Group, they found nearly 70 percent of respondents believe AI “interjects greater possibilities for digitally enhanced “group think,” lessening creativity and freedom of thought”. There is added speculation that AI-generated content like ‘deepfake’ audio and visuals will create a storm of distrust. However, given a choice of words to the respondents in the Edelman Group survey most identified with “curiosity” rather than other word choices like “fear”. This could embody the general attitudes Americans have about it. Some are uncertain and others see the great dangers to it, like surveillance. But in general, curiosity around the applications around AI exist.
82% of the Future of Humanity Institute respondents somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement “robots and artificial intelligence are technologies that require careful management.” This shows that people are aware that this is special technology that can be a force of control, just as much as a force for good.
The dynamics around AI and the free market may arouse this kind of cautionary attitude around its management. Governance challenges around AI are existent. Regulation has not quite caught up with the technology’s evolution. Survey respondents also ranked other technology concerns higher than AI threat, such as data privacy being the most important. US tech companies capitalize on user data. They sell data to third party companies or use it to create targeted advertising.
A study by Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation found that the reasons why the US is the global leader in AI stem from the fact that it "generates the most influential research papers on AI, has some 3,000 doctoral scholars working in this field each year and boasts about 1,400 AI startups and seven of the world's leading tech companies." On top of this, the study says that over the past 40 years, US universities, state agencies and companies have developed a close-knit cooperative network.
The US and China invested in AI much earlier than Europe. Therefore the two countries lead the EU in regards to AI. For example, under President Barack Obama, the US mobilized to create its first AI strategy. Each year, the US state invests $1.5 billion (€1.3 billion) in AI research and development. By contrast, the German government set aside only €3 billion in total for research and development of artificial intelligence. As the economic powerhouse of the EU, Germany leads to close the AI innovation gap.
Germany particularly faces challenges in how to add AI to their traditional export-focused manufacturing industries (hello BMW!). The technology however makes the privacy-conscious country---and EU---a bit uncertain in how it may disrupt their social and labor policies. The EU distinctly only wants to utilize AI if it underpins their fundamental social values and individual rights.
Dieter Janecek, a lawmaker in the German parliament and member of the Green Party, cautions against the poor management of AI; he ventures to say it may "lead us straight into a total surveillance state." Janecek continues on by saying "we don't want this to happen here”, offering European values must be alternative to how the US and China are handling the technology.
The EU attitude towards AI largely depends on how data privacy is treated. Currently, under the General Data Protection Regulation, personal data must be anonymized and pseudonymized. While there are certain use cases for collecting and analyzing data, like healthcare treatment plans, the EU attitude remains skeptical.
Former director of the London School of Economics and respected sociologist, Anthony Giddens writes on AI: “In 1215, England adopted the Magna Carta to stop kings from abusing their power. Today, the new kings are big tech companies, and just like centuries ago, we need a charter to govern them.” The EU wants tougher regulation on AI to respect social values. Therefore EU institutions and other member states are working together to tackle the challenges of AI, while trying to incorporate the benefits the technology presents to its economies. In general, the EU does not focus on AI’s geopolitical importance, but instead focus on how member states, working together, can work to contribute European social values global development of AI.
The Chinese State Council presented its national AI strategy, promising to roll it out in three stages: catching up with the US by 2020, overtaking it by 2025 and leading the way globally from 2030. China is pouring plenty of investment in these goals. The capital of Beijing will provide €16.4 billion to promote the chip industry.
Meanwhile in China, social values differ. Tracking personal information is seen as a tool for social stability and/or social control. The most well-known---and controversial---use of data and AI is the state-controlled facial recognition system.
One scholar, Feng Xiang, a respected legal scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing explains the context of AI within the Chinese socialist state. Xiang believes the use of AI draws from the Chinese concept of “Marxism”. The ideology informs how policies are created. Xing continues on to explain that AI is a major method in achieving the wage labor ambitions of the past. If AI serves society rather than private companies, it will free up the drudgery of wager labor and create a stable and wealthy society. AI as an exclusive cutting-edge technology should not belong to the class of private companies. Like other potent technology---nuclear and biochemical weapons---it should be directed by a stable state.
While surveillance is capitalized on in the West and monitoring is normalized in China, they both leverage personal data. The major distinction is that it’s for profit in the West and used for social control in the East. Not that it’s exclusively used. For example, Alibaba and Tencent do sell their users’ data to third parties. Edward Snowden showed that the National Security Agency and other American agencies leverage personal information to pry into the private lives Edward Snowden revealed, are no strangers to poking into the lives of others.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs calls AI “a needle-moving technology for the global economy …it impacts every corporation, industry, and segment of the economy in time” AI is not just another technology, but a powerful enabler---for what, is the great debate across cultures. AI in recruiting, AI-powered pre-employment assessments, hiring with AI, talent management with AI are points of conversation for hiring managers. By understanding the nuanced cultural perceptions of the technology, conversations within HR and the organizations at large become more informed and inclusive.
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