How do we feel about AI?


This blog is a smaller part of a larger essay “Trust thou AI?” on human trust in AI and what to consider when attempting to create trustworthy AI-based applications, products and services.

We appear to be very positive about Artificial Intelligence or AI for short. Men in general are more positive than women. Men with young children are much more positive than any other humans (that I have surveyed). It doesn’t seem like Arnold Schwarzenegger, with his Terminator, has done much to make us have strong negative feelings towards artificial intelligence and what we believe it brings with it. Though one may argue that sentiments towards robots of course could be a different story. And as one in the audience of one of my talks challenged, maybe people feels the same about coffee machines and e-bikes … and indeed maybe that is the case … but as my surveys never asked people what they feel about consumer goods in general … I don’t know the answer for coffee machines or e-bikes. Though, even if I knew the answer, I do not think it really matter too much for this story on AI and how we feel about it.

So … how do we feel about AI?

In the above chart the choices to the question “How do you feel about AI?” has been aggregated into Negative sentiment: “I hate it”, “It scares me” and “I am uncomfortable with it” , Neutral sentiment: “I am neutral” and Positive Sentiment: “I am comfortable with it”, “I am enthusiastic about it” and “I love it” (note: why you would be scared or hate your coffee machine or e-bike sort of boggles my mind … but again I don’t know the answer to that one).

On average we are fairly comfortable with AI. Or more accurately, we feel comfortable with what we understand AI to be (and that may again depend very much on who and what we are as well as context). However, this only scratches the very surface of how we feel about AI. It is as we will see as complicated as the say on Facebook.

Let’s start with the “Bad” or Negative Feelings so we can end with the Good stuff. The negative feelings towards AI is depicted in the chart below. Here we can see that the Negative sentiment for women ends up at 32%, with 11% feeling scared by AI and 18% feeling uncomfortable with AI. For men, feelings towards AI are in general substantially less negative than expressed by women. Only 4% of men express that AI scares them and 13% that AI makes them uncomfortable.

This difference may simply reflect that men may have more difficulties admitting fear or being scared (apology for the gender stereotyping). They may substitute an emotionally charged negative feeling with another description that is less emotional or maybe opting for something more neutral. It may also be that men are in general more positive towards technology in comparison with women. This is by no means an explanation and begs more interesting questions and consequences for technology design in general if corporations intend to appeal to all genders. Nevertheless, these results are consistent with existing understanding of sex role orientation and the resulting degree of expressed fear levels. Women in general report significantly higher fear levels in tests than men. It should be note that while “being scared” or “feeling uncomfortable” may characterize different fear levels, “hate” is a different emotion than fear.

The “Good” or Positive Feelings. Men feels more positive towards AI (48%) than women (27%) as shown below. In the category “I am comfortable with it” almost twice as many men agrees. Also substantially more men appears to be enthusiastic about AI compared to women. Just as it is important to AI-based use cases to understand that more women tend to have more negative feelings towards AI than men, it is also worth keeping an eye out for designs rooted in male-driven overly optimistic designs or features that may not appeal the women in the same way.

One of the observations that have come out of conducting these “how do you feel about AI?” surveys (over the last two years) are that there are substantial gender differences (a divide may be more accurate) in how we perceive AI. This needs to be an important consideration in designing AI-based products that will meaningful appeal for both women and men (and anyone in between for that matter). Given that most AI product developers today are male, it might be good for them to keep in mind that they are not only developing products for themselves. They actually need to consider something that will be appealing to all genders.

The chart below reflects the AI sentiment of women (808) and men (815) from a total amount of 1,623 respondents across 4 surveys conducted in 2017 and 2018. Most of those results have individually been reported in my past blogs. So … Women feels in general significantly less positive towards AI compared to men. Women have a slightly more negative sentiment towards AI than positive. Overall there are more women than men who rank their feelings as neutral. Men with children (younger than 18 years of age) have the most positive feelings towards AI of all respondents. Unfortunately, the surveys that I so far have been carried out does not allow for estimating the age of the youngest child or average age of the children. Women’s sentiment towards AI does not appear (within the statistics) to be depending on whether they have children younger than 18 years of age or not or no children. Overall, I find that;

  • Women appear to be far less positive about AI than men.
  • Men with young children are significantly more positive than men and women in general.
  • Contrary to men, women’s sentiment towards AI does not appear to depend on their maternal status.

So why are we so positive … and men clearly more than women … about AI? This despite that AI is likely to have a substantial impact (to an extend it already have) on our society and way of living and working (e.g., privacy, convenience, security, jobs, social network, family life, new consumption, policies, etc..). The median age of the respondents was about 38 years old. Although respondents with children (less than 18 years of age) was on average about 33 years old. In the next 10 years most will be less than 50 years old and should still be in employment. In the next 20 years, most will be less than 60 years old and also still very much in active employment. Certainly, young children of the respondents would over the next 20 years enter the work place. A work place that may look very different from today due to our aggressive pursuit of intelligent automation and autonomous systems.

Is the reason for the positive outlook on AI that the individual (particular the male kind) simply do not believe the technology to be a possible existential threat to the individual’s current way of living?

If you think about your child or children, how do you believe AI’s will impact their future in terms of job and income? … while you think about this! … I will give you the result of one of the surveys (shown below) that I have conducted in September 2018.

In terms of believing that the future (for their offspring) will be better than today, women are less positive than men. Across gender fewer are of the opinion that the opportunities of their children (whether they are below 18 or above) will remain the same as today. Women appear to have a more negative outlook for their children than men. There is little difference in men’s beliefs in their child’s or children’s future opportunities irrespective of the age of their children. Women having children under 18 years of age are significantly less optimistic of the outlook of their children’s opportunities compared to those women with older children.

From work by Frey & Osborne (2013) on how jobs are becoming susceptible to what they call computerization, there is plenty of room for concern about individuals job and thus income security. According with Frey and Osborn, 47% of the total US employment is at risk within a decade or two. A more recent PwC economical analysis estimates that the impact of algorithmic & AI-based automation across all industries will be in the order of 20% by late 2020s and 30% by the late 2030s (Hawksworth & Berriman, 2018). Job categories served by low and medium educated will be a hit the hardest. Women are expected likewise to be impacted more than men. Irrespective of how you slice and dice the data, many of us will over the next 2 decades have our lives, livelihood and jobs impacted by the increased usage of intelligent automation and autonomous systems.

In order to study this a bit further, I asked surveyed respondents two questions (structured in an A and a B 50:50 partition); A: “Do you believe your job could be replaced by an AI? and B: “Thinking of your friends, do you believe their jobs could be replaced by an AI?“.

  • We feel fairly sure that our own jobs are relative safe for AI impact.
  • However, we think that our friends and colleagues jobs are far likelier to be replaced by an AI.

From the above chart, it is clear that when it comes to assessing the potential for AI impacting job security, individuals feel much surer about their own job security than what they assess to be the case of a friend or a colleague. Only one fifth of the surveyed thinks that AI actually could replace their jobs. Interestingly, men assessing their own job security are almost twice as sure about that security compared to women (based on the number of Maybe answers).

We assign a much higher likelihood to our friends and colleagues prospects of loosing their jobs to an AIs than that happening to ourselves. Maybe it is easier to see our friends and colleagues problems and challenges than our own? Both women and men appears more uncertain in assessing their friends job security than their own. Although a less dramatic difference in uncertainty between women and men, men still appear less uncertain than women in their assessment of their friends job security.

So what’s next?

Clearly, it is important to continue to gauge the our human sentiments towards AI. How this will change over time will also indicate how likely we are as humans to find an AI-based service or product trustworthy. You will find a though rough analysis of trust in Human – AI relationships in my latest essay “Trust thou AI?”.

The sentiment towards AI and its impact has been shown to be gender dependent. More women express more negative feelings towards AI than men tends to do. Women express to a higher degree that AI scares them or makes them feel uncomfortable. Men are substantial more positive and far less men appear willing to express that AI scares them. Men with younger offspring tend to be expressing the most positive sentiment in the surveys. Understanding those differences will be important in designing AI-based applications, services and products that appeal not only to men (or male sex role orientation) but to the full spectrum of gender and sex roles. Whether or not a consumer will embrace an AI-based application or policy will depend a lot on the trust in the automated algorithmically-driven process that will impact that consumers life in an ever increasing degree.

Further reading

Fiona Gallacher & Douglas M. Klieger, (1995). “Sexual Role Orientation and Fear”, The Journal of Psychology; 129, pp.41-49. This paper reports on gender differences in how we react to fear and other phobias. It should be noted that while it is found that expression of fear is substantially different between women and men, behaviorally no significant differences have been observed.

Kim K. Larsen, (2018); “Trust thou AI?”, “Machine … Why ain’t thee Fair?” and “Human Ethics for Artificial Intelligent Beings“. All contain comprehensive bibliographies.

Jennifer S. Stevens & Stephan Hamann, (2012). “Sex differences in brain activation to emotional stimuli: A meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies”, Neuropsychologia; 50, pp. 1578-1593.


I rely on many for inspiration, discussions and insights. Any mistakes are entirely on me. I would like to thank Liraz Margalit and Minoo Abedi for many useful suggestions and great inspirational discussions around the topic of trust. I am particular thankful for Liraz’s patience with my many questions around gender differences (beyond the most obvious that is). I also greatly acknowledge my wife Eva Varadi for her support, patience and understanding during the creative process of writing this Blog.