80% of employers aren’t worried about unethical use of AI – but maybe they should be

Posted on 5 Sep 2019 by Jonny Williamson

Companies around the world are expecting to apply artificial intelligence (AI) within their organisations in the next few years but are lagging in discussions of the ethics around it, new research has found.

More than half of the employers questioned in a multi-country opinion survey say their companies do not currently have a written policy on the ethical use of AI or bots, although 21% expressed a definite concern regarding their companies and a potential for the unethical use of AI.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the employers surveyed expect their companies to be using AI or advanced automation by 2022 to support efficiency in operations, staffing, budgeting or performance, although only 25% are using it now.

Digital Transformation AI Artificial Intelligence Microchip Machine Learning - Stock Image

Yet in spite of this growing trend, 54% of employers questioned say they are not troubled that AI could be used unethically by their companies as a whole or by individual employees (52%).

Employees appear more relaxed than their bosses, with only 17% expressing concern about their companies.

Those are the headline findings of a multi-country survey – sponsored by global technology company Genesys – canvassing more than 1,100 employers and 4,200 employees regarding the current and future effects of AI on their workplaces, including AI ethics policies, potential misuse, liability and regulation.

The 5,310 participants were drawn from six countries: the US, Germany, the UK, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Millennials want to see it in writing

A fair number of employers surveyed (28%) are apprehensive their companies could face future liability for an unforeseen use of AI, yet only 23% say there is currently a written corporate policy on the ethical use of AI/bots.

Meanwhile an additional 40% of employers without a written AI ethics policy believe their companies should have one, a stance supported by 54% of employees.

CROP - unethical use of AI -Digital artificial intelligence (AI) ethics scales - image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Even more interesting is that half of employers (52%) believe companies should be required to maintain a minimum percentage of human employees versus AI-powered robots and machinery.

Employees are more likely (57%) than employers (52%) to support a requirement by unions or other regulatory bodies.

The surveys underscore that Millennials (ages 18-38) are the age group most comfortable with technology, yet they also have the strongest opinions that guard rails are needed. Across the countries, the survey questions about AI ethics resonated more with Millennials than with Generation X (ages 39-54) or Baby Boomers (ages 55-73).

Whether it’s anxiety over AI, desire for a corporate AI ethics policy, worry about liability related to AI misuse, or willingness to require a human employee-to-AI ratio — it’s the youngest group of employers who consistently voice the most apprehension.

For example, 21% of Millennial employers are concerned their companies could use AI unethically, compared to 12% of Gen X and only 6% of Baby Boomers.

*All images courtesy of Depositphotos