Research from the UK government’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) has found the public believes technology isn’t being fully utilised to tackle the pandemic, but greater use requires trust in how it is governed.
CDEI advises the government on the responsible use of AI and data-driven technologies. Between June and December 2020, the advisory body polled over 12,000 people to gauge sentiment around how such technologies are being used.
Edwina Dunn, Deputy Chair for the CDEI, said:
“Data-driven technologies including AI have great potential for our economy and society. We need to ensure that the right governance regime is in place if we are to unlock the opportunities that these technologies present.
The CDEI will be playing its part to ensure that the UK is developing governance approaches that the public can have confidence in.”
Close to three quarters (72%) of respondents expressed confidence in digital technology having the potential to help tackle the pandemic—a belief shared across all demographics.
A majority (~69%) also support, in principle, the use of technologies such as wearables to assist with social distancing in the workplace.
Wearables haven’t yet been used to help counter the spread of coronavirus. The most widely deployed technology is the contact-tracing app, but its effectiveness has often come into question.
Many people feel data-driven technologies are not being used to their full potential. Under half (42%) believe digital technology is improving the situation in the UK. Seven percent even think current technologies are making the situation worse.
The scepticism expressed about the use of digital technologies in tackling the pandemic is less about the technology itself – with just 17 percent of respondents expressing that view – and more a lack of faith in whether it will be used by people and organisations properly (39%).
John Whittingdale, Minister of State for Media and Data at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, commented:
“We are determined to build back better and capitalise on all we have learnt from the pandemic, which has forced us to share data quickly, efficiently and responsibly for the public good. This research confirms that public trust in how we govern data is essential.
Through our National Data Strategy, we have committed to unlocking the huge potential of data to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges, while maintaining our high standards of data protection and governance.”
When controlling for all other variables, the CDEI found that “trust that the right rules and regulations are in place” is the single biggest predictor of whether someone will support the use of digital technology.
Among the key ways to help improve public trust is by increasing transparency and accountability. Less than half (45%) of respondents know where to raise concerns if they feel digital technology is causing harm.
CDEI’s research highlighted that people, on the whole, believe data-driven technologies can help tackle the pandemic. However, work needs to be done to improve trust in how such technologies are deployed and managed.
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