How Can We Increase Trust in AI? Turn to Gen Z!

A recent study shows Gen Z initiates more negative online conversations around AI than any other demographic. Why? And what can we do about it?

ast week, I wrote about the EU’s draft AI regulations, and also recently joined other members of the Scottish AI Alliance Leadership Circle to discuss what they could mean for the world. The proposed rules represent the best effort we’ve ever seen anywhere to control the production and application of artificial intelligence.

Although imperfect (for now, at least), the draft AI regs should absolutely give the public some peace of mind that artificial intelligence technologies will only be made and used responsibly. But clearly the rules are doing no such thing.

A recent study by Ebuyer, published since the EC announced its draft EU AI regulations back in April, shows that almost 3 million people worldwide are still seriously worried about the dangerous potential of artificial intelligence. And I imagine that already-substantial 3 million is but the tip of an uneasy iceberg.

Using data from Google Search Trends, Linkfluence, and Answer the Public, the retailer found that the aforementioned figure is querying AI online using negative terminology. The top two questions at the end of anxious fingertips are:

(1) Can artificial intelligence be dangerous?

(2) Will artificial intelligence take over the world?

Of course, the respective answers to these questions are:

(1) Yes.

(2) No.

But as I say in my upcoming book, AI by Design, the above answers will only apply with the right controls in place, one of which is proper regulation. This includes the proposed rules from the EU and any future regulatory efforts based on its model (or not) to come from elsewhere in the world, especially the other major players in artificial intelligence — China and the United States.

Speaking of our friends across the pond, Ebuyer’s research found that the US is where most dialogues around AI originate. According to the data collected, the US is responsible for over 12 million posts on these technologies. India came in second with almost 2.4 million posts, and the UK third with nearly 1.3 million posts. However, it’s interesting to see that the sentiment of enquiry in India and the UK is generally upbeat, whereas in the US it’s mostly pessimistic.

I suspect the answer as to why publication of the draft EU AI regulations has failed to eliminate or reduce public mistrust of artificial intelligence (at least, based on the Ebuyer study results) lies partially in the main demographic starting and participating in these online conversations. Can you guess the group in question? You got it: Generarion Z.

18–24 year-olds account for 30% of the conversations, although Gen Z actually includes those between 6 and 24 in 2021. Being mother to three of these unique souls, I speak with some authority when I say that this demographic is online A LOT. Thankfully, I’ve trained my own kids to scrutinise everything they read on the internet and elsewhere, but it’s no secret that Gen Z get much of their information from unreliable web sources, such as fellow social media users looking to scaremonger, rather than the reputable publications likely to report on important, groundbreaking innovations like those contained in the EU’S proposed rules.

It’s so encouraging that young people are engaging in such conversations. I said in last week’s blog that the proposed EU rules are the start of a more meaningful dialogue around artificial intelligence that will hopefully lead to real action. But it’s crucial that this dialogue includes our youth, who are the ones about to inherit the AI-powered world we’re building for them. We’re in the process of making sure that world will be safe, but let’s also make sure they KNOW it will be safe!

Parents can help with this, assuming they’re not all doom and gloom about AI themselves, teaching their kids about a topic influencing countless areas of life. Schools and other organisations (like those I wrote about earlier this year after the death of Prince Philip) should also play a role — curricula and programmes can disseminate more accurate knowledge around these technologies.

That way, our children won’t rely on disinformation and sci-fi to shape their opinions!

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position.