James KATZ, Boston University, College of Communication, United States
US perceptions of science and technology: A 2021 attitudinal survey comparing AI, privacy and pandemic vaccines
The opinion of the public can at times be crucially important in the decisions about using technology on a large scale as well as even permitting the use of the technology in the first place. Therefore, having a sense of what the public mood is concerning prominent issues can be quite helpful in designing effective and equitable public policies. To help support such efforts, a nationally representative survey of Americans was conducted in early 2021. Included in the instrument were a variety of questions on scientific and technological topics. In this paper we focus on issues relating to attitudes towards the advisability and long-term impact of artificial intelligence (AI), the relationship between technology privacy and personal security, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Generally speaking, public opinion was roughly divided as to the advisability of a variety of artificial intelligence innovations, with a notable tendency towards more negative than positive outlooks. Nonetheless, there were still a strong reservoir of positive feelings towards such innovations. Perhaps surprisingly, AI-related innovations that promised personal improvement or security did not substantially increase the percent of people who had positive opinions about such an innovation. As to privacy and personal security, once again public opinion was about evenly divided as to the various technological threats to privacy when the pluses and minuses were considered. As to science and the Covid-19, the public expressed a great deal of skepticism about the quality of scientific interventions to improve the situation with the virus. Skepticism was also expressed about the efficacy of virus.
Although we do not have identically created data sets from France, numerous surveys have been conducted of public opinion concerning the above issues. We include a few comparisons with France as a way to contextualize the US situation and internationalize the concerns that people seem to have about AI, privacy, and scientific dimensions of Covid-19 interventions.
We close by placing some of these findings in a historical perspective and make some informed speculations about the future of public opinion in this arena.