Half of British citizens think government will use robots in the next decade

Written by Rebecca Hill on 22 March 2017 in News

A survey has revealed that the British public can see robots speeding up some public services – but that they doubt robots will be better decision-makers than humans.

Government use of robotics has benefits - but the public don't see them making better decisions than officials - Photo credit: Flickr, Victory of the People, CC BY 2.0

The survey, carried out by enterprise information management company OpenText, asked citizens for their thoughts on the use of robotic technology by the government.

A total of 50% said there would be automated technologies used in the next decade: across the whole group, 16% expected them to be used in the next one or two years, 15% in the next five and 19% in the next ten.

When asked about the benefits of robotics to government, 24% said it could reduce waiting times, while 20% said it would cut down time spent filling in forms.

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However, there was more scepticism about the use of robots for all the roles humans fill at the moment.

Just 10% of people felt that artificial intelligence would make better decisions that elected officials, while 35% said AI would not be able to assess the cultural aspects of decision-making.

The survey also asked what government functions – including law-making and taking decisions on various policy areas – robots could do better than humans.

The most-chosen function, which 10% of respondents picked, was making decisions on the economy. Just 4% said they would be better at resolving local issues.

Some 23% said that robots would never perform better than humans, while 58% said that none of the answers matched their opinion.

The respondents said they could see some benefits to introducing AI into healthcare, with 25% said they would be less reliant on booking a GP appointment and 23% saying it would help them access their medical data.

Just less than a third felt it would help them get a quicker diagnosis, but there was more caution about whether these diagnoses would be reliable, and 23% said they would not trust such opinions.

Some 27% said they would like a doctor’s second opinion, while 12% said they would trust the diagnosis more than, or just as much as, a doctor’s diagnosis.

Research carried out by communication solutions company Nuance earlier this year showed that 43% of NHS Trusts in the UK were considering how to use AI to allow patients to “self-help” when accessing health services.

The same data showed that 60% of NHS trusts had access to speech recognition technologies to create patient reports and diagnostics reports.

Last year, Enfield Council became one of the first local authorities to use AI assistance, with the introduction of IPSoft’s Amelia systems to help residents carry out online tasks and reduce pressure on staff.

Meanwhile, HMRC has a process that encourages staff to pitch ideas that use robotics and automated systems to improve services. It recently announced it had cut call handling times by around two minutes by automating manual processes.

In a statement published alongside the results of the OpenText survey, the company’s vice president, Mark Bridger, said that AI would provide “faster access to sophisticated insights, and consequently empower them to make better decisions for citizens”.

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