BCS survey finds over half of UK adults don't trust algorithms to make decisions

  • Over 50% of adults in the UK don't trust computers to make decisions that affect their lives, accoding to the latest YouGov poll for BCS.

    Organisations have been using computers to make decisions affecting our lives for years, from the algorithms that determines if you get approved for a loan to the systems that balance load in the electricity grid or schedule hospital appointments. Algorithms now determine everything from the order of your social media feed to the pricing on online stores.

    A new YouGov survey of 2,000 people conducted on behalf of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, shows that 53% of UK adults don't trust companies to use algorithms when making important decisions. This follows the controversial use of algorithms to decide GCSE and A-level results across the UK, which backfired when the results didn't match students' abilities.

    Sentiment about algorithms used in education were understandably negative in the survey, with just 7% saying they trusted the algorithms used by the education sector. Similar sentiment was seen in the algorithms used in social services, and those employed by teh armed forces, which also came out at 7%.

    Northern Ireland showed the most positive reception to algorithms, with only 45% negative responses compared to 56% across the UK, which may reflect the region's strong tech and digital education focus. Highest trust was indicated in the NHS due to computer-assisted diagnosis, which has evolved rapidly over the past several years due to the application of AI for processing of medical data.

    People trusted tech giants such as Google and Apple just as little as they tristed the police, with only 11% believing that they use algorithms responsibly to make decisions about people. They had more trust in financial services such as credit scoring agencies at 16%, and intelligence agencies dealing with cyber-threats and national security at 12%.

    The results unsurprisingly vary strongly across age lines, with 63% of over-55s expressing negative sentiment toward computer algorithms in decision-making and only 42% in young people aged 18-24 years. Young people who ahve grown up with the computerisation of fields such as medicine more strongly trust the use of algorithms in that sector, with 30% of those aged 18-24 trusting algorithmic decisions in the NHS.

    BCS Director of Policy Dr Bill Mitchell commented on the results: "People get that Netflix and the like use algorithms to offer up film choices, but they might not realise that more and more algorithms decide whether we’ll be offered a job interview, or by our employers to decide whether we’re working hard enough, or even whether we might be a suspicious person needing to be monitored by security services."

    Source: Written based on press release


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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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