A majority of Americans believe the rise of artificial intelligence technology could put the future of humanity at risk, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published Wednesday. The poll found that more than two-thirds of respondents are concerned about the negative effects of AI, while 61 percent consider it a potential threat to civilization.
The online poll, conducted from May 9 to May 15, sampled the opinions of 4,415 US adults. It has a credibility interval (a measure of accuracy) of plus or minus two percentage points.
The poll results come amid expanding generative AI use in education, government, medicine, and business, triggered in part by the explosive growth of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which is reported to be the fastest growing application in software all the time. The success of the application has initiated a race of technology hype among technology giants like Microsoft and Google, who stand to benefit from having something new and confusing to potentially increase their share price.
Fears about AI, whether justified or not, have changed public discourse recently due to high-profile events such as the “AI pause” letter and Geoffery Hinton’s resignation from Google . In a recent high-profile case of AI apprehension, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman testified before the US Congress on Tuesday, expressing his concerns about the potential misuse of AI technology and calling for regulation that, according to criticsmay help his company stay in its technological lead and fend off competition.
Lawmakers seem to share some of these concerns, with Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) observing, “There’s no way to put this genie in a bottle. All over the world, it’s exploded,” the Reuters report.
This negative fear message seems to have an effect. Americans’ fears of AI’s potential for harm outweigh optimism about its benefits, with those predicting adverse outcomes outnumbering those who don’t by three to one. “According to the data, 61% of respondents believe that AI poses a risk to humanity, while only 22% disagree, and 17% remain unsure,” writes Reuters.
The poll also revealed a political divide in views on AI, with 70 percent of Donald Trump voters expressing more concern about AI compared to 60 percent of Joe Biden voters. Regarding religious beliefs, evangelical Christians are more likely to “strongly agree” that AI threatens human civilization, at 32 percent, compared to 24 percent of non-evangelical Christians.
Reuters reached Landon Klein, director of US policy at the Future of Life Institute, who wrote the open letter asking for a six-month moratorium on AI research into systems “more powerful” than GPT -4. “It speaks to a broad swatch of Americans who are concerned about the negative effects of AI,” Klein said. “We look at the current era as similar to the beginning of the nuclear era, and we have the benefit of public perception that is consistent with the need to act.”
Meanwhile, another group of AI researchers led by Timnit Gebru, Emily M. Bender, and Margaret Mitchell (three authors of a widely cited critical paper on large-scale language models) say that while AI systems are indeed potentially destructive, the widespread concern about an AI- powered apocalypse is misplaced. They prefer to focus on “transparency, accountability, and prevention of exploitative labor practices.”
Another issue with the poll is that AI is a nebulous term that often means different things to different people. Almost all Americans now use “AI” (and software tools that used to be considered “AI”) in our daily lives without much notice or fanfare, and it’s unclear whether the poll of Reuters/Ipsos tries to make that kind of difference for its respondents. We did not have access to the poll methodology or raw poll results at press time.
Along those lines, Reuters quoted Ion Stoica, a professor at UC Berkeley and co-founder of AI company Anyscale, pointing out this potential conflict. “Americans may not realize how pervasive AI is in their daily lives, both at home and at work,” he said.