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The world is split on its trust in artificial intelligence

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A global survey by the safety charity Lloyd’s Register Foundation has uncovered that more than a quarter (28%) of the world’s population feel artificial intelligence (AI) will mostly harm people in their country over the next 20 years.

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More than a quarter (28%) of the world’s population feel artificial intelligence (AI) will mostly harm people in their country over the next 20 years.

Global Divide in AI Perceptions: Optimism in Tech Hubs, Distrust in Low-Income Regions

Despite the transformative potential of AI, only 39% of the world’s population (less than two in five) believe it will mostly help people in their country over the next 20 years. Detailed in a new report – A Digital World: Perceptions of risk from AI and misuse of personal data – the results indicate the future challenges of AI adoption and acceptance by certain groups around the world.

The report is based on the 2021 Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll, powered by Gallup. 125,000 people across 121 countries were polled about their attitudes towards AI and personal data misuse, among other safety topics. The results found a clear divide in opinion around the benefits of AI.

Optimism about AI was most prevalent in regions that are leading in the development of these technologies, such as Eastern Asia where a majority (57%) said AI would mostly help people, while only 13% said it would mostly cause harm, resulting in a ratio higher than any other global region.

Distrust in AI was highest in low-income regions – including Southern Asia, Eastern Africa, Central/Western Africa, Southern Africa, Northern Africa and Eastern Africa - which showed clear majorities answering that AI would mostly harm people in their country. Among the East African countries, respondents from Tanzania (62%), Kenya (57%) and Uganda (57%) were most likely to say AI would mostly harm people, while no more than 25% in these three countries said it would mostly help.

Women were also less likely than men to say AI would mostly help people in their country – 35% versus 43%, respectively. They were also somewhat more likely than men to say AI would mostly harm people (29% vs. 27%) or that they did not have an opinion.

A key factor, according to the Poll findings, is the level of exposure people have to digital technologies. Globally, 44% of people who said they have access to the internet felt AI will mostly help people in their country in the next 20 years. This is compared to just 28% of those without internet access. These differences were present regardless of people’s educational attainment level; for example, while 34% of people with primary education or less said AI will mostly help people in their country, that figure rose to 43% among those with internet access.

Artificial intelligence has huge potential to bring good to the world, and we’re already seeing a number of examples of its benefits within healthcare, disaster risk management and government services. However, if we don’t manage the public understanding of risk in relation to these technologies, we may fail to introduce them in a way that is accepted by the majority.

Dr. Sarah Cumbers, Former Director of Evidence and Insight, Lloyd's Register Foundation

Dr. Cumbers added: “The report has highlighted that there is a global issue with trust in AI technology. We have uncovered a correlation between exposure and trust, with a more positive outlook on AI prevalent in countries leading in its development, such as South Korea and Japan. In contrast, those who are not regularly exposed to AI technology, including as a result of economic factors or lack of internet access, are less optimistic.

“It’s essential that governments, policymakers and innovators engage with vulnerable communities to understand and address their concerns about AI technology to ensure they are introduced in a way that benefits all.”

Aidan Peppin, Public Participation & Research Lead at Ada Lovelace Institute, said: “AI and data-driven technologies are increasingly ubiquitous in people’s lives all around the world. How people experience and perceive these technologies is a strong signal for whether they’re working for people and society, and the World Risk Poll provides valuable evidence on what’s needed to ensure the harms of data and AI are mitigated, and the benefits are maximised for all.

“The findings suggest that many people around the world do see hope and opportunity from data and AI, but data protection and privacy are a major concern for many, and the benefits of AI are not distributed equitably. Addressing these issues – among others – is imperative in realising those hopes and opportunities and avoiding the potential harms of data and AI that many feel and fear.”