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Results from a poll by Pew Research Center

Adults in the United States tend to view AI’s medical applications favorably but are leery of text and image generation.

What’s new: Pew Research Center polled 11,004 U.S. adults for their opinions of AI in science, healthcare, and media.

What they said: The pollsters asked respondents how much they had read or heard about nine AI applications and whether they considered these developments to be advances. The results reflect responses as of December 2022.

  • Not all applications were equally well known. 59 percent of respondents said they had “heard or read a lot or a little” about robots that participate in surgery. 46 percent and 44 percent knew that AI had been used to predict extreme weather or generate images from text, respectively. On the other hand, less than 25 percent were familiar with AI that predicts protein structures in cells, detects skin cancer, or manages pain.
  • Scientific applications garnered the most enthusiasm. 59 percent of those who knew something about protein-structure prediction said it was a major advance. 54 percent were equally impressed by AI’s role in producing more resilient crops. 50 percent said the same of AI’s ability to predict extreme weather.
  • Certain medical applications garnered enthusiasm. 56 percent of those who were familiar with AI-enabled surgical robots thought they were a major advance. 52 percent of those who knew something about skin-cancer detection regarded it as a major advance. Mental health chatbots fared less well: 19 percent of respondents who had heard or read a lot or a little about them said they were a major advance.
  • Media applications raised the most skepticism. 31 percent of respondents who were familiar with text-to-image generation regarded it as a major advance. Of those who had encountered information about AI’s ability to generate news articles, 16 percent said it was a major advance.

Behind the news: A January 2023 survey by Monmouth University corroborates some of Pew’s findings. 35 percent of that poll’s 805 respondents had heard a lot about recent AI developments. 72 percent believed that news outlets would eventually publish AI-penned news articles. 78 percent thought this would be a bad thing.

Why it matters: As AI matures, it becomes more important to take the public’s temperature on various applications. The resulting insights can guide developers in building products that are likely to meet with public approval.

We’re thinking: The respondents’ familiarity with a given application did not correlate with their acceptance of it. While we should be responsive to what people want, part of our job is to show people the way to a future they may not yet envision — all the more reason for AI builders to follow your interests rather than the latest AI fads.


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