Germans see potential in Artificial Intelligence

14 December 2017

Self-driving cars, more accurate medical diagnoses or aid in crime investigation – Artificial Intelligence is already established as an indispensable element in many areas of human activity and is expected to remain a key technology in the years to come. Two thirds (69 percent) of the German population are convinced that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is crucial for ensuring that German companies will continue to enjoy global success in the future. Every second individual (49 percent) is keen for the political community to make every possible effort to promote AI research in Germany, and a third of the population (30 percent) even thinks that Artificial Intelligence should be made a top priority political issue. This is the result of a representative national survey of 1,006 German residents aged 14 and older commissioned by the digital association Bitkom. “Within a few years, many products and services will be equipped with machine intelligence, or their nature may even be determined by it”, says Bitkom President Achim Berg. “We must do all we can to make the best possible use of AI for the digital community.”

In general, the German population sees immense opportunities for introducing Artificial Intelligence in all areas of life. 8 out of 10 (83 percent) are confident that AI can improve traffic control and reduce traffic jams. Almost as many people (81 percent) believe that AI in the industry will enable machines to take over physically strenuous activities. Two thirds in each case say that administrative tasks can be sped up (68 percent), research and creativity can be stimulated (67 percent) and customer service enquiries can be processed more efficiently (64 percent) with AI. Most people also believe that the police will be able to solve crimes more quickly using AI (54 percent), and in the healthcare sector more accurate diagnoses can be made with assistance from AI (57 percent). “The aim is not to replace the policeman or the doctor with an AI system. The aim is for intelligent systems to place their work at the disposal of the professional”, says Berg. “Thus for example, software can process an enormous quantity of data for a sick patient and very quickly compare it with many previous diagnoses and the latest results from research. On this basis, it can then present the treating physician with a treatment proposal that addresses the individual needs of the patient.” The majority of the participants in the survey remained unconvinced on just one point. Only every fifth person (21 percent) believes that AI is able to produce entirely new creations in the field of art and culture. Berg explains: “For analytical tasks, people evidently see no limits to the capabilities of AI, but they do not believe the systems are capable of true creativity.”

The survey also shows that many German residents – often without knowing it – use devices or services based on AI. 19 percent of respondents are sure that they have already made use of corresponding applications, 31 percent at least think they have. In actuality, however, 73 percent are already users of online translation, language assistants or the like, or customized non-advertising recommendations from online platforms.

But even though Artificial Intelligence is generally welcomed, there are many concerns. For example, over three quarters (78 percent) worry that the introduction of AI may open the door to the abuse of power and manipulation. About two thirds in each case fear that AI will reflect the prejudices of the programmers (67 percent) and will only create the illusion of fact-based decisions (64 percent). Almost exactly half (50 percent) are afraid the AI will disenfranchise humans or even that intelligent machines may one day turn against humanity (54 percent). “We live in an age of constantly improving AI systems, each of which has been taught to carry out a certain task, and some of them are doing this even better than us humans. However, a machine that is exceptionally capable of diagnosing diseases is still only able to do that, and will not make my travel reservations or clean my house”, says Berg. “We must provide broader, more effective education as to what Artificial Intelligence can do, but also what it cannot do.”

Only a small minority of barely 4 percent wishes to see the introduction of AI banned as a matter of policy. At the same time, however, only 3 percent would prefer policy makers not to intervene at all. The overwhelming majority of 88 percent wants rules to be enshrined in policy. “What we need most urgently is a federally coordinated strategy for the development and implementation of Artificial Intelligence. If we spend the next few years simply arguing the pros and cons of the technology, we are going to be left behind by the rest of the world”, asserts Berg.

Bitkom holds the view that the Federal Government must increase the budget for AI research significantly and make at least 4 billion euro available for AI research in the current legislative period. Furthermore, a minimum of ten master*s degree courses and 40 professorships for AI should be set up in order to mitigate the skills shortage that is already threatening this technology of the future. “A strategic process of potential and risk assessment should be instituted to examine the opportunities and risks for economic and local policy and make the necessary political changes and evaluate possible courses of action”, says Berg. Bitkom further recommends that Germany commits to developing the personal privacy programme at the European level with particular reference to AI. In this context, a “regulated co-regulation” would appear most logical for the purpose of implementing data privacy regulations to govern AI applications. Companies develop codes of conduct based on best practices, and these are reviewed by the EU Commission or monitoring authorities and recognized as legally compliant. Berg continues: “AI is of fundamental importance for the development of the digital society. We need cornerstones for digital ethics, and we should develop these in the context of a partnership between society, economy and politics.”