Concern over UK’s ‘AI confidence gap’

An AI ‘confidence gap’ linked to low levels of public trust in the technology could risk preventing the UK from realizing AI’s potential to be a force for good in areas including healthcare, food safety and sustainability, with over three fifths wanting guidelines for its safe use, a study by BSI reveals.

BSI’s Trust in AI Poll of 10,000 adults across nine countries identifies global attitudes towards AI’s potential to improve our society, with more than half of UK respondents (54%) feeling excited about how AI can shape a better future for everyone by improving the accuracy of medical diagnosis and nearly half (43%) welcoming help from the technology in reducing food waste. 47% say AI can help create a more energy-efficient built environment.

With the NHS facing pressures including the COVID-19 pandemic backlog, rising patient numbers, linked to an ageing population and complex disease profiles, AI poses a huge opportunity according to UK respondents. Nearly half of Britons (49%) support the use of AI to help ease pressure on the healthcare system and reduce waiting times, while 48% believe the use of AI can help to meet staffing needs across the sector. Furthermore, over a third (37%) expect to be regularly using AI at the doctors or in hospital by 2030.

Yet while Britons are aware of the opportunity for AI, there are low levels of trust. The UK along with other major economies, including France and Germany, is facing a confidence gap linked to low levels of public trust in AI. For example, just one fifth of Britons have more confidence in AI than people to detect food contamination issues, 65% say patients need to be made aware AI tools are being used in diagnosis or treatment, and three in five feel vulnerable consumers need protections around AI. Equally, while many Britons currently use AI technology (e.g., 57% use facial recognition for banking) three in five are unsure whether this uses AI. There is a clear opportunity for education to build understanding in AI and empower people to collectively harness its capabilities.

The research by the business improvement and standards company, BSI, was commissioned to launch the Shaping Society 5.0 essay collection, which explores how AI innovations can be an enabler that accelerates progress. It highlights the importance of building greater trust in the technology, as many expect AI to be commonplace by 2030, for example automated lighting at home (27%), automated vehicles (23%) or biometric identification for travel (31%), and nearly one in five (18%) expect AI to be regularly used in school within just seven years.

Three fifths of Britons (61%) want international guidelines to enable the safe use of AI, indicating the importance of guardrails to ensure AI’s safe and ethical use and engender trust. For example, safeguards on ethical use of patient data are important to 50% of people globally.

Without addressing and taking steps to bridge the gap in confidence, countries such as the UK could lose out on the benefits AI has to offer, especially when compared with growing economies such as China and India, where enthusiasm for and use of AI already supersede the UK. For example, China (70%) and India (64%) already use AI every day at work whereas the UK average is 29%. 86% and 89% respectively expect their industries to use it by 2030, falling to 51% in the UK (62% globally).

Harold Pradal, Chief Commercial Officer, BSI said: “AI is a transformational technology. For it to be a powerful force for good, trust needs to be the critical factor. There is a clear opportunity to harness AI to drive societal impact, change lives and accelerate progress towards a better future and a sustainable world. Closing the AI confidence gap is the first necessary step. It has to be delivered through education, to help realize AI’s benefits and shape Society 5.0 in a positive way. BSI is proud to be at the forefront of ensuring AI’s safe and trusted integration into everyday lives around the world.” 

There is clear opportunity to harness AI to drive societal progress. By 2050 nearly a quarter of Britons (23%) say a top priority is for AI to help to reduce our impact on the environment, 25% focus on it improving medical diagnosis and a fifth (17%) pick AI helping to make society fairer and reducing inequality.

Nearly half of Britons (48%) say AI can be used most effectively to take on tasks’ humans don’t have time for, and 55% say with training they would trust AI to do parts of their job, including the most menial aspects. Furthermore, 14% say a priority is AI making a four-day work week possible for all. 

Craig Civil, Director of Data Science and AI, BSI said: “The magnitude of ways AI can shape the UK’s future means we are seeing some degree of hesitation of the unknown. This can be addressed by developing greater understanding and recognition that human involvement will always be needed if we are to make best use of this technology, and by ensuring we have frameworks that are in place to govern its use and build trust.

“Now is the moment for the UK to collaborate to balance the great power of this tool with the realities of actually using it in a credible, authentic, well-executed, and well-governed way. Closing the confidence gap and building the appropriate checks and balances can enable us to make not just good but great use of AI in every area of life and society.” 

The UK Government is holding a summit on safe use of AI at Bletchley Park on November 1 & 2. BSI is an official partner for the AI Fringe event.