AI will only succeed when people learn to trust it

Artificial intelligence

Skynet may be coming, but China could usurp the U.S. as the launchpad for the robot uprising. According to a recent report from TNW, China is set to outpace America in artificial intelligence research spending by the end of this year. But there’s a big hurdle that the worldwide leader in AI — whoever that is — will have to jump first.

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Before AI takes over the world, it will have to win the hearts and minds of consumers. That’s where things get dicey. A third of global consumers believe robots will never know their preferences as well as fellow humans do, according to research from Pega. People don’t trust machines like they do people — at least not yet.

Human fear of the automated uprising is matched only by our curiosity about AI’s potential. Hossein Rahnama, founder and CEO of Flybits, talked to BetaKit about this budding relationship:

“If you look at how many people rely on their phone or Siri to set up a calendar, or call someone, or book an appointment, there is a level of trust on technology that indicates that AI and technology is becoming more reliable,” he said. As the head of a context-as-a-service company that’s all about AI, Rahnama believes that humans will learn to trust automated assistants more as they become more helpful.

Salesforce recently found that 61 percent of people worldwide believe that AI offers positive opportunities to society. That still leaves 39 percent of people unconvinced that the robots are here to do good — and not all opportunities are created equal, either. Take self-driving cars, for instance. Only 46 percent of customers report liking or loving the idea of AI taking over that activity. When asked about email spam filters and credit card fraud detection, however, the positive customer sentiment was above 80 percent.

AI and humans can’t keep dating forever. Eventually, humans will have to learn to trust AI if this marriage is ever going to work. With questions about data security and consumer protection swirling, companies must take the first step to earn the trust they need to push forward. Companies can take the following approaches to encourage consumers to trust their AI products and services.

Teach people that AI isn’t here to kill them

Credit: Web Summit / Flickr
Dublin, Wednesday 31th October 2013: Pictured at the The Web Summit 2013, RDS. Photo by Dan Taylor/Heisenberg Media

Elon Musk believes AI is humanity’s greatest threat, and he’s not alone. Many outside the AI industry are more worried about turning into human batteries for robot overlords (a la “The Matrix”) than they are excited about AI’s predictive potential. To fix the problem, companies must help consumers understand all the great, non-apocalyptic things AI can do.

Humans are a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of species. Pega’s study found that 68 percent of people would be open to using more AI if it helped them save time or money. Until AI becomes a regular, positive presence in their lives, consumers will continue to treat it with suspicion. Companies must infiltrate ordinary life with small yet visible AI-powered improvements before people will trust the technology on a larger scale.

Pledge to protect privacy, and then actually do it

As every customer-facing company already knows, consumers want to have their cake and eat it, too. They expect companies to provide personalized experiences — which companies do by feeding personal data into AI software — but they also expect these firms to safeguard that data and only store what they need. Tough crowd — but these demands are reasonable, given the number of headlines about compromised data.

The good news is that 82 percent of customers are already willing to share personal information for better experiences. The bad news is that every breach (Equifax, Target, etc.) harms consumer trust in data protection. Businesses must collectively make data protection a top priority and follow through on that commitment if they want people to let automated tools play with their data.

Don’t hide the wizard behind the curtain

Businesses can’t shroud their AI advancements in secrecy and expect consumers to take them at their word. Those who build the robots must reveal what the robots can do, what they can’t, and how they make recommendations.

Buyers of driverless cars, for instance, will want to know whom their vehicles will protect when forced to choose between two lives in an impending crash. Obviously, no company will run an ad campaign about its commitment to run over pedestrians. Still, people need to know what goes into those decisions, so they can feel more comfortable about the decision to get behind the wheel (even if they don’t touch the wheel).

Makers of AI technology are more interested in predictable outcomes than world domination. Consumers would love all the potential benefits AI can offer, but before they invite those benefits into their lives, they need reassurance. Only through baby steps and transparent communication can businesses set the foundation for an AI-powered future.

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