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Pepijn Stoop | We need to communicate more about our work

Pepijn Stoop ,
20 oktober 2023 - 09:49

Are you involved in AI research? Then you are one of the few fans of your work. Research shows that only nine percent of people believe artificial intelligence will bring more good than harm. Outside the walls of Science Park, many people find AI “scary.”

You can shrug it off as a gut feeling. To me, it is a signal that we as AI students and scientists do not communicate well enough about our work.


Fear of technology has always existed. When the steam engine emerged, mill workers were already afraid they would lose their jobs. You could see fear of AI as a resurgence of this. Yet this time it is different. For one thing, it involves a larger group of people. For example, a survey of 2,000 Zeelanders showed that 89% find AI “scary.” These are people who worry that the soccer-playing robot on Lab42 will take over their jobs. We know that that soccer robot is not that frightening, but many people do not.

How can we allay that fear of AI? It starts with recognizing their unease, which is often about the rapid pace of development

Second, these concerns do not come out of the blue: Things go wrong with AI and privacy, control, and discrimination. And although UvA research groups and coalitions are working on social AI and social impact, this remains within the walls of Science Park. We know about these studies; they don't. And when the best-known AI face is a multimillionaire who wants to wrestle with Mark Zuckerberg, I understand that Joe and Jane citizen look at AI with suspicion. 

How can we allay that fear of AI? It starts with recognizing their unease, which is often about the rapid pace of development. Not in writing articles how doomsday scenarios involving killer robots are nonsense, but by highlighting that people are already using and benefiting from AI every day. People are not aware that spam filters, Siri, and Netflix also fall under AI. And that AI is a collective term, with many applications that benefit them at home, at work, and at the hospital.

We need to teach people the basics. Herein lies a role for anyone involved in AI as a student or researcher. To convey general AI knowledge, we obviously need websites and TV shows. But even if you are not a communications scholar or Folia columnist (wink, wink), you can do something.

Starting a serious conversation with someone at a birthday gathering is already helpful. Begin by hearing your interlocutor's feelings without belittling them. Explain the basics of AI: What is Machine Learning? How does ChatGPT determine which word it chooses? And if your research can be simplified, then do it. Chances are you already do, but especially with the AI field growing so much, this is important.

If we all judge less and clarify more, we can reduce fear of AI. After all, who wouldn't want additional fans for our amazing research?


Pepijn Stoop is artificial intelligence student at the UvA.