Life Imitating Art: Artificial Intelligence technology won’t progress unless the public’s fears subside
The rise of the digital assistant
The world around us is becoming more automated than ever before, with many of us increasingly leaning on digital assistants such as Cortana, Echo and Siri to run our lives. Before too long it is highly likely that our cars will be driverless, fridges will restock and our homes will heat themselves. If we are not careful, we could be one step away from being the morbidly obese citizens portrayed in WALL-E, floating around in hoverchairs.
But apart from the potential weight gains, is there a darker side to giving away all this control? Recently, Westworld – the sci-fi thriller about a technologically advanced, Western-themed amusement park populated by androids that malfunction and begin killing the human visitors – became the biggest watched show of all time on Sky Atlantic. Could this act of fiction actually be closer to reality than many of us would care to admit?
The wild wild west
For almost two thirds of respondents to our recent study, the answer is yes. Some 62 per cent of those UK adults polled thought that a Westworld scenario of robots malfunctioning and killing humans is likely to happen in the future. This number rose significantly to over seven in ten (72 per cent) of Centennials and 71 per cent of Millennials.
How much we allow artificial intelligence (AI) to infiltrate our lives is a quandary for many as there are several obvious benefits, especially when they are able to take on some of the menial tasks we all hate. In the same survey, six in ten (60 per cent) UK adults agreed that having a home robot would save them time on their household chores. Although it was more of a case of keeping up with the Joneses for some, with half (51 per cent) admitted that the main benefit was that it would be a cool thing to have in their house when people came over.
AI on the move
Tesla became headline news last year for all the wrong reasons when the driver of a Tesla Model S was killed in an accident when the car was in self-driving mode. Reports suggest that the car failed to recognise a lorry that had pulled out in front of it due to glare reflecting off its side. Then, in February of this year, a landmark race between two self-drive cars ahead of the start of the Formula E electric car race in Buenos Aires ended badly when the Devbot vehicle crashed out after misjudging a corner while travelling at high speed.
Whilst there is a race by car makers to develop self-driving cars, our research shows that only 28 per cent think that a self-driving car would be a better driver than a human and two thirds (66 per cent) believe that safety of self-driving cars is also paramount prior to them being allowed on our roads.
No doubt buoyed by the coverage both the Tesla and Devbot incidents got, giving up control of a 1,500-kilogram speeding metal box is clearly a concern for many. As is the fact that a car’s computer could potentially be infiltrated by unscrupulous hackers with malicious intent. In fact, such a threat would prevent half (48 per cent) from buying them in the future. Interesting this figure rises to 61 per cent of Centennials.
Quality is the priority
Consumer confidence on such issues is typically based on experience using these products and services. What this shows us is that for AI to truly hit the mainstream, businesses will need to work hard to prove that they are safe and secure from being hacked and thus improve consumer trust. To do this they need to prioritise quality to protect their customers. Quality in this context is more than just the engineering, it is about the quality of all the digital processes from the original idea to the final product created.
When it comes to AI and robotics, life is beginning to imitate art. Thought must, therefore, be put into quality to ensure that innovation is not jeopardised by software quality issues and AI can continue to develop. As the technology itself continues to morph, quality assurance needs to be undertaken in both a timely manner and continuously at regular intervals. Not just to prevent a Westworld type uprising, but to ensure that AI enriches all our lives.
By Dik Vos, CEO, SQS
 Arlington Research surveyed 2000 UK consumers for SQS, February 2017