The Citizens’ Perspective on the Use of AI in Government

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The Citizens’ Perspective on the Use of AI in Government

However, despite the obvious opportunities for efficiency and effectiveness, the role of AI, automation, and robotics in government policy and service delivery remains contentious. For example, can you prevent algorithms based on historical data from perpetuating or reinforcing decades of conscious or unconscious bias? When is it acceptable to use “black box” deep-learning models, where the logic used for decisions cannot possibly be explained or understood even by the data scientists designing the underlying algorithms?

To gain insights into citizens’ attitudes about and perceptions of the use of AI in government, BCG surveyed more than 14,000 internet users around the world as part of its biannual Digital Government Benchmarking study. BCG asked this broad cross section of citizens to tell us:

Our key findings center around the types of AI use cases survey respondents indicated they would support, the way that attitudes about government and demographics affect support, and the ethical and privacy aspects of using AI in government.

  • Citizens were most supportive of using AI for tasks such as transport and traffic optimization, predictive maintenance of public infrastructure, and customer service activities. The majority did not support AI for sensitive decisions associated with the justice system, such as parole board and sentencing recommendations.
  • People in less developed economies and places where perceived levels of corruption are higher also tended to be more supportive of the use of AI. For example, the citizens surveyed in India, China, and Indonesia indicated the strongest support for government applications of AI, while the citizens surveyed in Switzerland, Estonia, and Austria offered the weakest support.
  • Demographic patterns tend to mirror general attitudes toward technology. Millennials and urban dwellers, therefore, demonstrated the greatest support for government use of AI, while older people and those in more rural and remote locations showed less support.
  • Citizens were most concerned about the potential ethical issues, as well as lack of transparency in decision making, and expressed significant anxiety about AI’s potential to increase automation and the resulting effect on employment.Citizens generally feel positive about government use of AI, but the level of support varies widely by use case, and many remain hesitant. Citizens expressed a positive net perception of all 13 potential use cases covered in the survey, except decision making in the justice system. (See Exhibit 1.) For example, 51% of respondents disagreed with using AI to determine innocence or guilt in a criminal trial, and 46% disagreed with its use for making parole decisions. While AI can in theory reduce subjectivity in such decisions, there are still legitimate concerns about the potential for algorithmic error or bias. Furthermore, algorithms cannot truly understand the extenuating circumstances and contextual information that many people believe should be weighed as part of these decisions.

    Support for Use of AI in Government Varies by Country

    While the results of the survey show some clear trends, a deeper review reveals both correlations among and divergences between different locations and age groups.

    People in emerging markets tend to be more positive about government use of AI. We found that citizens in mature economies tend to show less support for government use of AI than those in emerging markets. For example, citizens surveyed in countries such as Estonia, Denmark, and Sweden, are least receptive to the use of AI, while the top three most supportive countries are China, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Indonesia.

    Support for government use of AI correlates moderately with trust in government. Trust in institutions is essential if governments are to gain the support needed to roll out AI capabilities. We found that the countries where citizens are most supportive of AI were India, China, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. This aligns closely with the countries that had the highest levels of trust in government on the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, the annual global survey. In descending order, the top four countries are: China, UAE, Indonesia, and India. (See Exhibit 2.)

    The ethical implications of AI use are among the top concerns of citizens. However, the overall level of concern is lower than expected. When asked about potential concerns around the use of AI by governments, 32% of citizens expressed concern that significant ethical issues had not yet been resolved, and 25% were concerned about the potential for bias and discrimination. The other major concerns were the perceived lack of transparency in decision making (31%), the accuracy of the results and analysis (25%), and the capability of the public sector to use AI (27%). The overall level of concern about government use of AI at this stage appears to be relatively low. This finding could be because adoption is still in its early stages or because there is a low level of awareness of the potential risks—or both. However, citizens are very concerned about the impact of AI on jobs. (See Exhibit 5.) When asked about the implications of AI for the economy and society, citizens expressed significant concerns about the availability of work in the future (61% agree), the need to regulate AI to protect jobs (58% agree), and the potential impact of AI on jobs (54% agree).

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