Support for AI in government highest among Asian nations

21 May 2019

A survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group has found that countries in Asia are generally more trusting of the use of AI in government, with India, China and Indonesia leading the globe.

Among the major topics dominating discussions at this year’s World Economic Forum was a global call to action on developing artificial intelligence governmental frameworks, with Deloitte stating in its attendant ‘AI Ethics: The Next Big Thing in Government’ report that “Gaining societal consensus on the ethics of AI is one of the key tasks of the government.” But what of the use of AI by governments?

One strange quirk common across the globe is the enduring public faith placed in the tech sector – despite reputational hits to many of the world’s biggest industry giants and these entities having greater insights into our private lives than at any time in history – with tech companies continually coming out on top in brand and industry trust surveys. Governments feature at the other end of the scale, usually somewhere below even the legal profession and real estate agents.Support for AI correlation to trust in governmentConducted by global strategy and management consultancy Boston Consulting Group, a public perception survey on the use of AI in government among more than 14,000 internet users in over two dozen countries worldwide grants some interesting insights on the correlation between national trust in governments and trust in a government’s application of AI – partially confounding expectations.

While there is variation as to support for differing use cases and differing demographics within countries, nations in Asia are broadly the most supportive of AI in governance, with India, China, and Indonesia having the top three most supportive citizens, followed by Saudi Arabia and UAE. All of Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Hong Kong hold relatively positive views, while Switzerland, Estonia, and Austria were among those least receptive.

With China, Indonesia, India, and UAE ranking in order as the top four nations for the highest levels of trust in government on the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer cited by BCG, there is indeed a moderate correlation. But there are also other elements at play. People in emerging markets tend to be more positive about government use of AI, along with those in countries that have higher reported or perceived levels of corruption.Support for AI correlation to perception of corruptionAlthough higher levels of actual or perceived corruption don’t necessarily correspond to heightened distrust, the authors of the report suggest that these findings could be interpreted as a preference by citizens for AI-based decision making over human decision making where there is less confidence in the machinery of government – similar in a sense to the high consumer acceptance rates for autonomous vehicles in countries with poor road quality such as India and Brazil, where citizens recognise that the introduction of AVs would allow for massive improvements in personal mobility.

It may be worth repeating that many people in countries such as Sweden and Denmark with developed economies and strong institutions tend toward showing less support for governmental use of AI –which suggests a conservative ‘if it isn’t broken’ attitude. Here, the survey also found that people living in densely populated urban areas are the most supportive of the use of AI of any demographic, at 61 percent, while transport and traffic optimisation received the greatest backing among potential use cases with net support of 60 percent.

“While the benefits of operational efficiency (in areas such as transport and service delivery) are understood and meet little resistance from most people, fewer are comfortable with the use of AI in more sensitive decision-making environments such as health care and justice. Most worrying to citizens are the ethical issues, lack of transparency, and the potential impact of AI on employment,” the report states, concluding; “Appropriate oversight of AI will be critical if citizens are to have confidence in its use by government.”