How Europeans Feel About Technology and Automation

A lot has been written about the apparent pace and breadth of technological disruption we are apparently living through, but rather less is said about how the public feel about this supposed shift in society.  The European Commission hope to change that with their Eurobarometer survey, which is designed to explore the opinion of citizens towards digitization and automation in daily life.

The survey reveals that the vast majority of respondents have a positive view of digital technologies, whether on the economy, quality of life or society as a whole.  What’s more, these figures rise the more familiar people are with modern technologies.

Loving the machine

What’s more, this perception was similar for robots and artificial intelligence, with the majority feeling positive towards the technology.  An impressive 84% of respondents believed there are many jobs to which robots are best suited, with nearly 70% regarding robots and AI as good for society.  As before, this positive perception was significantly more prominent among those with some knowledge of the topic.

There is however a perception that robots and AI will destroy more jobs than they create, despite evidence suggesting the reverse is, and has always been, the case.  This underlines a belief that AI is a technology that requires careful management to ensure it is utilized appropriately.

The picture is less positive when it comes to digital health technologies.  Less than 20% of respondents have used digital health technologies in the past year, despite the majority demanding access to healthcare online.

Also of interest is our views around data sharing in healthcare.  Whilst the majority are only too happy to do so with doctors and other healthcare professionals, just 14% were happy to do so with companies.  With the likes of Google making strides in this area, it’s a topic I’ve touched on previously, and I underlined the importance of ensuring patients are in control of their data and de-facto data monopolies aren’t allowed to emerge in healthcare in the same way they have in so many other areas of modern life.

A recent paper from the Royal Society highlighted the need for data governance to be at the heart of the new AI-based economy, but also on the importance of responsible communication of these issues.  As the EU survey highlights, we feel less threatened when we know more, and so a strong emphasis has to be on accurate and reliable reporting of technology and the issues surrounding it.  Too often it seems reporters succumb to hyperbole that distorts matters in an overly negative manner.

As the Royal Society report states, we need “continued engagement between machine learning researchers and the public.  Government could support this through a public engagement framework.”