Tech experts and the media talk ad nauseam about the potential for artificial intelligence to steal a massive number of jobs. Do everyday workers and consumers share the fear?

A new report attempts to answer that question. PwC published a survey Tuesday that polled 2,500 people on their thoughts about A.I. The results: People aren't nearly as fearful of the technology as some of the field's most vocal leaders.

Predictions from experts have varied widely regarding just how many jobs automation will render obsolete. A Forrester study puts the number at 6 percent of jobs by 2021; others say nearly half of all jobs will be gone by 2035.

Workers, however, aren't so worried. Only 46 percent of people polled by PwC believe A.I. "will harm people by taking away jobs." Those surveyed were required to show at least basic familiarity with A.I.

Predictably, people are even less likely to buy into the fear when it comes to Terminator-style doomsday scenarios: Only 23 percent believe A.I. will have "serious, negative implications."

Tech leaders--perhaps most notably Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking--have expressed fear that A.I. could become too powerful and rebel against its makers. Earlier this month, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, laid out a scenario in which computers don't just take jobs--they create and run companies themselves, eventually controlling the entire world economy.

The survey's respondents seemed to focus more on the positive outcomes A.I. will bring. The survey found that 63 percent of people believe A.I. can "help solve complex problems that plague modern societies."

As to where, specifically, respondents would like to see A.I. used, 68 percent say it's important that A.I. be used to solve issues related to cybersecurity and privacy. High percentages of those polled also believe A.I. can make significant advances in eradicating cancer and diseases, developing clean energy, improving education, and boosting global health and well-being.

When it comes to whether or not it's acceptable for the economy to lose jobs due to more automation, the answers largely depended on what kind of jobs are on the chopping block. Eighty percent of those polled say it's more important to have access to the cheaper legal advice that A.I. might offer than to preserve the jobs of lawyers. And two-thirds of respondents are okay with taxi driver and call center jobs being lost if it means access to better transportation and customer service.

Those feelings don't translate to situations that have a long-term impact on consumers' lives. Seventy-seven percent of respondents would forego a home assessment with a robotic smart kit to go see a real live doctor--good news for those in the health field, since A.I. can already detect issues like skin cancer as well as a dermatologist can. And 61 percent would rather see universities keep human assistants than have automated chatbots assistants and cheaper tuition.

But the entertainment industry might want to take note: more than half of the people surveyed think that by 2025, A.I. will create a Billboard 100 song and write a hit TV series.

Published on: Apr 26, 2017