Survey reveals citizen attitudes towards AI in the public sector

New research has revealed that two thirds of UK citizens (65%) believe robots will eventually work in government, with over a third of those surveyed (34%) thinking this could happen within the next five years. A further 17% believe robots could be working in government as soon as 2019 or 2020. Despite this, one in five (21%) British citizens think that Brexit will impact the UK’s ability to innovate in the area of artificial intelligence.

The survey of 2,000 UK respondents conducted by OpenText suggested that UK citizens are open to the idea of introducing AI into government services. In fact, over a quarter (26%) of those surveyed think robot technology would make better decisions than elected government representatives, with one in 10 citing its ability to better analyse data as the reason for this. Despite this, over a third (34%) of those surveyed do not feel as though robots would be able to assess cultural factors when required to make a decision.

Other key findings from the survey include:

  • ‘Reduced waiting times’ was identified as the biggest benefit to employing robot technology in government, with nearly one in five (18%) UK citizens identifying this as the main issue robots could help to improve
  • One in ten (10%) believe there would be fewer errors in government processes
  • A further one in ten (10%) think there would be less admin and form filling to complete as a result of introducing robot technology into government services

The latest data from OpenText reveals that many UK citizens recognise the benefits of introducing AI into the public sector. However, respondents in Britain were more sceptical to the reality of its implementation in the near future when compared to those surveyed in the Netherlands, France and Australia. In fact, the UK ranked sixth when respondents were asked whether they think robot technology would be working in government in the next five years:

Country % of respondents that think robot technology will be working in government in the next five years
Netherlands 31%
France 24%
Australia 22%
Spain 20%
Canada 19%
UK 18%
Germany 16%
USA 13%

Yet, this year’s findings are slightly more optimistic when compared to results from 2017. In fact, last year Britain ranked lowest when respondents were asked whether they think robots would be working in government within the next five years.

Commenting on these findings, Mark Bridger, VP, OpenText UK said: “Artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform government services. This disruption is not something we should fear. Robot technology will enable greater efficiency while also taking some of the day-to-day strain off those working in the public sector.

“By implementing AI when tapping into the vast volumes of data available to them, public sector organisations can gain access to real-time information and sophisticated insights – empowering them to improve decision-making and deliver services that really do meet the needs and wants of UK citizens.”


AI in the NHS

Faced with a growing population and tight budget, the UK’s National Health Service has already started looking to AI to improve patient service and cut costs. With smartphones due to become the primary method of accessing health services, the NHS is already investing in AI-powered apps and implementing technology which will allow NHS 111 enquiries to be handled by robots within two years.

Yet this latest research reveals widespread uncertainty amongst the UK population when it comes to trusting their health to AI:

  • A more accurate diagnosis was identified as the biggest benefit of introducing AI into healthcare, yet only a quarter (26%) of UK consumers believe robots would reach the correct diagnosis
  • Speed and quick access were also highlighted as major benefits – 21% believe AI technology can offer a quick diagnosis and the same proportion (21%) would appreciate not having to take time off work to visit a doctor

As AI is implemented across the healthcare sector, British consumers will need to put their trust in this technology. Yet this research revealed that two fifths (41%) do not know if they would trust the medical diagnosis given by AI and a further 26% confirmed that they did not trust the technology. Just 11% said they would trust the diagnosis of AI more, or just as much, as a doctor’s diagnosis.


Interacting with AI

Despite the increasingly ubiquitous presence of AI in consumers’ lives – from healthcare apps to AI-powered travel predictions on Google Maps – 45% of respondents were not aware of having interacted with AI in the past twelve months. Yet, in the age of extreme connectivity with individuals constantly online and connected through multiple smart devices, the reality is most people interact with AI on a daily basis.

Those surveyed showed a wide array of feelings around the growth of AI technology. Though nearly one in five (18%) described themselves as nervous, 17% are excited about the technology – mirroring increased optimism around the benefits of the technology.

Bridger commented: “AI technology is here to stay. Businesses are turning to digital transformation, healthcare organisations are embracing medical technology innovations and, as a result, AI is filtering into every aspect of our lives. It’s positive to see that more of us are looking at the benefits this will bring to the workplace and our wider lives – enabling greater efficiency while also taking away some of the strain of day-to-day tasks.

“While sci-fi films can distort the impact of AI technology, it’s time to stop viewing AI as an existential threat to our livelihoods and our health. AI will transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation but it cannot replace people. The true value of AI will be found in it working alongside humans to ease the pressure at work and across the healthcare system as well as making our lives easier.”

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