Artificial Intelligence – To Fear Or Not To Fear, That Is The Question?

The world around us is becoming increasingly automated, with many of us leaning on digital assistants such as Cortana, Echo and Siri to run our lives. Before too long it is highly likely that our cars will be driverless, fridges will restock automatically and our homes will heat themselves.

Recently, Westworld – the sci-fi thriller about a technologically advanced, Western-themed amusement park populated by androids that malfunction and begin killing the human visitors – became the biggest watched show of all time on Sky Atlantic. Could this fiction be closer to reality than many of us would care to admit?

Our recent study asked this question, and for almost two-thirds of respondents, the answer is yes. Some 62 per cent of UK adults polled thought that a Westworld scenario of robots malfunctioning and killing humans is likely to happen in the future. This number rose significantly to over seven in ten (72 per cent) of Centennials and 71 per cent of Millennials.

How much we allow artificial intelligence (AI) to infiltrate our lives is a quandary for many as there are several obvious benefits, especially when AI will eventually take on some of the menial tasks we all hate, such as cleaning, cooking and even ironing. In the same survey, six in ten (60 per cent) UK adults agreed that having a home robot would save them time on their household chores. Although it was more of a case of keeping up with the Joneses for some, with half (51 per cent) admitting the main benefit was that it would be a cool thing to have in their house when people came over.

Recent news hasn’t helped alleviate our fear either. Tesla became headline news last year for all the wrong reasons when the driver of a Tesla Model S was killed in an accident when the car was in self-driving mode . Reports suggest that the car failed to recognise a lorry that had pulled out in front of it due to glare reflecting off its side. Then, in February of this year, a landmark race between two self-drive cars ahead of the start of the Formula E electric car race in Buenos Aires ended badly when the Devbot vehicle crashed out after misjudging a corner while travelling at high speed.

Whilst there is a race by car makers to develop self-driving cars, our research shows that only 28 per cent think that a self-driving car would be a better driver than a human and two-thirds (66 per cent) believe that safety of self-driving cars is also paramount prior to them being allowed on our roads.

No doubt buoyed by the coverage both the Tesla and Devbot incidents got, giving up control of a 1,500kg speeding metal box is clearly a concern for many. As is the fact that a car’s computer could potentially be infiltrated by unscrupulous hackers with malicious intent. In fact, such a threat would prevent half (48 per cent) of us from buying them in the future. Interestingly this figure rises to 61 per cent of Centennials.

Confidence on such issues is typically based on our experience of using these products and services. What this shows us is that for AI to truly hit the mainstream, large tech brands such as Google, Apple and Amazon will need to work hard to prove that new innovative technologies hitting the market are safe and secure from being hacked and thus gain our trust. To do this safety and quality assurance must be prioritised to ease concerns.

As consumers, we have a large part to play in the uptake of such technologies and we must be open to the benefits of AI, and encourage progress as real-life benefits and fiction begins to blur. If large tech brands can ensure innovation is not jeopardised by software quality issues that could cause a Westworld type uprising, consumer trust will be maintained and AI will enrich all of our lives.

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