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Americans worry how AI is being used in the workplace

Written on May 5, 2023

Americans are concerned about artificial intelligence (AI) peering over their shoulder at the workplace to watch for bad behavior, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, though only a fraction think AI will have a major impact on them personally. 

AI has been used for years in technologies that can monitor what employees do at work, including surveillance systems that can try to see if retail employees are stealing, software that scrutinizes truck drivers for bad behavior, and plug-ins for email and chat applications that can flag foul language or fraud in offices.  

According to the Pew survey, Americans overwhelmingly oppose AI tracking their movements at work, for example—61% are against it, while 15% are in favor—or recording exactly what they are doing on their computers. About twice as many survey respondents opposed computer monitoring as favored it in Pew’s survey, which was conducted in December and drew on the opinions of about 11,000 U.S. adults. In a striking generational gap, according to the survey, 64% of people ages 18 to 29 opposed the use of AI to track what people are doing on their work computers, compared with 38% of people 65 and older. 

Research has shown that most Americans don’t know much about the extent to which AI is being used to collect and monitor information, said report authors. “There’s a healthy amount of skepticism and concern, but also a lack of knowledge and awareness. It’s just not something that is readily known among the general public.” 

Though most respondents think AI will have a major impact on U.S. workplaces, only about a quarter think it will affect them personally. “People are more likely to think that other people’s jobs will be disrupted versus their own,” she wrote in a report.  

A group of AI experts in March called for a moratorium of six months or longer on AI development to give the industry time to set safety standards for AI design and address potential harms of the riskiest technologies. 

Pew’s more recent research showed most respondents opposed many of the uses of AI-powered surveillance. A slim majority of respondents with an opinion, though, favored monitoring workers’ driving behavior as they made trips for the company. For each type of use, between 20% and 30% of respondents weren’t sure how they felt.