There’s a fine line between what people want robots to do and not do for them

I’m listening.
I’m listening.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
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The robots are coming, and that’s fine with most people—as long as they don’t try to run their lives.

Over the summer we surveyed 1,600 Quartz readers for their opinions on artificial intelligence. Among respondents, 79% said they were very or somewhat familiar with AI and most were aware of where they use it, with search, travel (maps) and assistants (Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant) rated as the top places where they interact with AI. Respondents expect their use of AI to increase a lot over the next five years. Currently, 30% of respondents use it “all the time” but 65% expect to use AI “all the time” in five years.

We also asked them what they wanted AI to do for them, based on where we see researchers and product designers working to apply AI.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was what people don’t want AI to do for them. From a laundry list of tasks came a clear signal that people are not interested in artificial intelligence taking control of core aspects of their lives. Compare the positive response to “Help me be healthier” at 50% to “Manage my health” at 29% and “Save me money” (51%) to “Manage my finances” (34%) or “Buy me things I need” (23%) to “Buy me things I might want” at just 6%. People want AI to contribute, not control.

We also analyzed free-form responses from almost 1,200 comments, helping us distill these into solid conclusions. People really don’t want AI to:

  • Interfere, replace, or manage personal relationships
  • Share personal information
  • Make decisions without consulting
  • Stifle creativity

As much as AI presents an opportunity for companies to create new technology products and to personalize online experience, people don’t necessarily trust it. No one wants a robotic world and, most of all, people don’t want robots to be people.

Notes: The survey of 1,640 Quartz readers was conducted July 8 – July 15, 2017. The demographics of the survey audience are a representative sample of the Quartz global business readership.