Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, April 18, 2024

Stony Brook Study Reveals What Americans Think About AI 

A study by Stony Brook University on the attitudes toward artificial intelligence (AI) amongst American adults reveals that the average U.S. adult has gained confidence in the capabilities of AI but has grown increasingly opposed to extending human rights to advanced AI systems.

Led by Dr. Jason Jones, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, and Dr. Steven Skiena, Ph.D., Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of Computer Science, the study was based on a comparison of data from 2021 and 2023 to determine the change in attitude of the American public amid the recent GenAI boom, including the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. 

The study builds on previous research into how AI is perceived by the public. Last year, Dr. Jones and Dr. Skiena published the Public Opinion of Artificial Intelligence Dashboard study, which concluded that Americans had a very low understanding of AI, but it is trending upwards. 

The latest study is based on a sampling of two unique groups of 500 American adults. One group was surveyed in March 2021, while the other was in April 2023. To ensure random and representative sampling, Google Surveys were used as the platform to gather the responses. 

The respondents shared their opinions about the capabilities of AI to perform intellectual tasks as humans are capable of, and whether such systems should be built at all. The participants were also asked if they believe AI systems should be provided with similar rights as human beings. 

"What we truly wanted to know was the distribution and average of public opinion in the U.S. population,” says Jones, co-author and also a member of Stony Brook’s Institute for Advanced Computational Science (IACS). “A random, representative sample is the gold standard for estimating that in survey research. Google shut down its Google Surveys product in late 2022, so we used another platform called Prolific to do the same thing for the second sample.”

(SuPatMaN/Shutterstock)

The comparison of the samples taken from 2021 and 2023 indicates a significant shift in the attitude toward AI. In 2023, the American public was far more confident in the ability of AI. This is not surprising given the hype surrounding GenAI. Some even think that 2023 was the year of GenAI. However, the study shows that the public is now more adamantly against extending the same rights as humans to AI systems. 

Researchers from other parts of the world have also conducted studies on the changing attitude toward AI. This includes a study in 2022 by Sindermann on the acceptance and fear of AI in Germany and China. The results showed that respondents who were more accepting of AI and who were less fearful also had a higher willingness to use AI systems, such as self-driving vehicles. 

Dr. Jones and Dr. Skiena believe more studies are needed to develop a deeper understanding of the impact of AI on society and public perception of the technology. With the rate at which GenAI is evolving, it won't be surprising if there is a significant change in public opinion. The researchers plan on conducting another survey this spring with an aim to build on the findings.

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