In the last decade, there has been a monumental shift in technology. From the rise in social media, smart phones and virtual assistants, all forms of technology have radically changed our day-to-day lives. Today, as the country looks to progress into the next stage of lockdown easing, the government are looking at different forms of artificial intelligence (AI) to help us safely move into the ‘new normal’ by being able to monitor the spread of coronavirus, as well as track levels of compliance with social distancing and wearing face masks. In a Populus survey conducted for communications agency Zinc Network, we asked respondents what they think of when referring to AI, and whether they supported or opposed the use of certain technologies to help ease us out of lockdown.

What do people think of when we say AI?

It seems there are large levels of confusion when it comes to AI. Despite less than half (41%) of respondents saying they thought they had encountered AI in the last three months, it is something many people use everyday. Digital assistants on smartphones, like Siri or Google Assistant, are common examples of AI, apps like Uber use AI, whilst Facebook uses facial recognition. When asked what they thought of when someone talks about artificial intelligence, more people named Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character (19%) as a prime example rather than more everyday apps like Facebook or Instagram (13%).

Do people support or oppose the use of technology?

Whilst people show low understanding of the different forms of AI, when shown specific examples of how it can help, they are, on the whole, supportive. On average, 70% of those who support the use of technology say they think it will help minimise the negative impacts of COVID-19, or help us exit lockdown safely. The most supported forms of technology include tech that can automate the admin elements of teachers’ jobs (68%), tech that can help with teaching (65%) and a track and trace app (65%).

Nevertheless, the UK public has concerns about the adoption of AI to help us exit lockdown. Out of those who oppose the use of technology, the most significant problem for many (72%) are the privacy concerns related. Nearly half of those (49%) are concerned about how personal data is stored, whilst the possibility that data will be used for other purposes other than fighting the virus also remain a significant worry for many (48%). Overall 66% are worried about the unintended impact of the technology, with 26% concerned that it will ultimately take the jobs of humans. As many of the proposed forms of technology are new and untested, 36% are concerned about the reliability of it and whether it will perform correctly.

The track and trace app

One solution that has already been put forward by the government is a contact tracing app that is designed to alert users if they have been in contact with someone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19. Understandably people have raised concerns about whether this app will then share sensitive information with others and so breach patient confidentiality. Out of those surveyed, 31% said they would support contact tracing apps that anonymously informed contacts if they caught coronavirus, but only if the government had no access to their data. Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has assured the public that data would only be held as long as it was needed and “all data would be handled according to the highest ethical and security standards”. 38% of respondents have said they would be happy to use and share their data from the contact tracing app with contacts and the government only if it is used to model the spread of the virus. Out of those who said they wouldn’t be using an app, over half (57%) say the privacy concerns are so big that no one should be using these types of apps.

When asked how they would engage with contact tracing apps, 41% said they would use it and expect most friends and family to use it too, whereas 26% said they, as well as family and friends, wouldn’t use it. Out of those who would use it and expect friends and family to as well, 77% are not bothered whether the government had access to their data or not. In addition, a further 70% are happy for the government to use their data from the app to monitor the spread of COVID-19.

Who do the public trust to implement the technology that can get us out of lockdown?

Although AI is now a priority for the government, the levels of public understanding of it are very low, and the percentage of people opposed to using it to help the country move out of lockdown remain very high. To successfully implement this technology, the government will need to work with organisations that people trust more to deliver AI. Only 24% of respondents trust the UK government to implement this technology, whereas tech companies (29%), schools (41%) and the NHS (67%) have higher trust levels.

“AI will also play a vital role in helping the UK exit lockdown and improve outcomes for hard-hit communities by overhauling health, education, travel, and the workplace – but many groups remain opposed on privacy grounds or concerns that livelihoods could be threatened. 

Our findings suggest the UK can overcome this understanding and trust deficit by working with trusted local institutions to roll-out technologies and focusing on areas such as health and education, where the public can see clear, immediate benefits. It is also vital to ensure that AI technologies benefit those groups and regions that are most sceptical about the adoption of new technologies.”   

Louis Brook, Executive Director at Zinc Network 

To view the full data tables, click here

Methodology

Populus conducted an online sample of 1,093 UK adults 18+ between 22nd and 23rd June 2020. Data is weighted to be representative of the UK population. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For more information, see www.britishpollingcouncil.org