For nearly a hundred years, artificial intelligence has captivated and inspired the imaginations of storytellers and philosophers alike. In 1927, German director Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” pondered the promise and perils of AI, while references to popular American franchises (such as The Terminator and The Matrix) have become synonymous with the most destructive visions of technology run amok. No less a scientist than Stephen Hawking mused that artificial intelligence would either be humanity’s greatest achievement or the source of its ultimate demise.
While many experts may envision a less dramatic manifestation of AI than these, the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022 has added a new urgency to questions. Popularization of the world’s most powerful open AI tool has underscored the creeping reality that AI’s moment is not waiting in some far distant future. It’s now.
In the midst of these mounting questions and concerns, we recently asked a representative sample of 600 Floridians to share their thoughts on AI and how they think it will impact American society. The survey — sponsored by the Florida Center for Cybersecurity and conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida and Florida Atlantic University — showed that while many Floridians perceive advances in AI to be promising, there are significant concerns about unanswered questions surrounding the technology’s economic impact and its implications for human security.
When asked whether AI will improve American society, Floridians were relatively divided, with 46% agreeing and another 46% disagreeing. However, a majority of respondents expressed concerns over the potential implications of AI’s ascent. For example, 75% said they are worried “AI could pose a risk to human safety,” while only 19% disagreed.
Moreover, a little over half (54%) expressed worry that AI could threaten their employment in the future, and a similar number (55%) said that “Artificial intelligence is being developed too quickly in the United States.”
More than two-thirds of respondents (69.5%) said that they would support a temporary “pause” on AI development until the threats to human security can be better understood — a proposition recently advanced by prominent tech leaders such as Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak.
While much has been written about AI’s potential to influence electoral outcomes, Republicans and Democrats expressed relatively similar views with regard to emerging artificial intelligence technologies. For example, an equal portion of Republicans and Democrats (74% each) expressed concerns over the potential implications of AI for human security.
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Similarly, 52% of Democrats said they worry that AI could one day threaten their employment, while 50% of Republicans and 51% of independents said the same. Republicans and Democrats were also consistent in their support for a temporary pause on AI development, with 73% in each party saying that they would support such a measure.
Collectively, the survey responses suggest that Floridians are wary of AI and the pace at which it’s being developed, even if many believe that it will have a positive impact in the long run. While there may be little that state leaders can do to assuage these concerns in the short term, it’s clear that understanding and addressing public misgivings will be essential to the successful implementation and adoption of AI solutions moving forward.
Stephen Neely is an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of South Florida. Kaila Witkowski is an assistant professor in the Public Administration Department at Florida Atlantic University.