Ever heard of ethical AI? Investigating the salience of ethical AI issues among the German population

by   Kimon Kieslich, et al.

Building and implementing ethical AI systems that benefit the whole society is cost-intensive and a multi-faceted task fraught with potential problems. While computer science focuses mostly on the technical questions to mitigate social issues, social science addresses citizens' perceptions to elucidate social and political demands that influence the societal implementation of AI systems. Thus, in this study, we explore the salience of AI issues in the public with an emphasis on ethical criteria to investigate whether it is likely that ethical AI is actively requested by the population. Between May 2020 and April 2021, we conducted 15 surveys asking the German population about the most important AI-related issues (total of N=14,988 respondents). Our results show that the majority of respondents were not concerned with AI at all. However, it can be seen that general interest in AI and a higher educational level are predictive of some engagement with AI. Among those, who reported having thought about AI, specific applications (e.g., autonomous driving) were by far the most mentioned topics. Ethical issues are voiced only by a small subset of citizens with fairness, accountability, and transparency being the least mentioned ones. These have been identified in several ethical guidelines (including the EU Commission's proposal) as key elements for the development of ethical AI. The salience of ethical issues affects the behavioral intentions of citizens in the way that they 1) tend to avoid AI technology and 2) engage in public discussions about AI. We conclude that the low level of ethical implications may pose a serious problem for the actual implementation of ethical AI for the Common Good and emphasize that those who are presumably most affected by ethical issues of AI are especially unaware of ethical risks. Yet, once ethical AI is top of the mind, there is some potential for activism.


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