AI in the Workplace: Americans Express Caution and Unease

A newly released report from the Pew Research Center delves into the perceptions of AI in the workplace, revealing a spectrum of opinions among respondents. In general, there is a sense of caution and uncertainty surrounding the utilization of AI for hiring and worker evaluation.

The report, titled "AI in Hiring and Evaluating Workers: Public Sentiment," was published on April 20. It draws its findings from a survey of 11,004 U.S. adults conducted between December 12 and 18, 2022. This survey took place less than two weeks after the introduction of the revolutionary ChatGPT chat bot by Microsoft's partner, OpenAI. Furthermore, it predates the unveiling of OpenAI's enhanced GPT-4 large language model. The rapid advancements in AI technology, particularly in the realm of machine language models, have prompted calls within the industry for a deceleration of development to address concerns related to safety, legality, ethics, and other pertinent issues.

Despite the respondents' lack of awareness regarding the increased scrutiny and criticism surrounding AI advancements, Pew discovered that they are closely monitoring the growing prevalence of AI with a spectrum of concerns, particularly when AI systems come into play, raising apprehensions of discrimination and bias.

"Americans are wary and sometimes worried," Pew said in the report. "For instance, they oppose AI use in making final hiring decisions by a 71 percent to 7 percent margin, and a majority also opposes AI analysis being used in making firing decisions. Pluralities oppose AI use in reviewing job applications and in determining whether a worker should be promoted. Beyond that, majorities do not support the idea of AI systems being used to track workers' movements while they are at work or keeping track of when office workers are at their desks."

Interestingly, while 62 percent of respondents believed AI will have a major impact on jobholders overall in the next 20 years, only 28 percent believe it will greatly affect them personally.

As far as the wariness and worry, the chart below illustrates how Americans widely oppose employers using AI to make final hiring decisions, track workers' movements while they work and analyze their facial expressions.

"They reject the idea that AI would be used in making final hiring decisions, by a ratio of roughly ten-to-one," the report said. "A smaller plurality (41 percent) also opposes the use of AI in reviewing job applications. These findings line up with a theme in Center research: that people are not comfortable ceding final decision-making to a computer program."

Other data points include:

  • 47 percent of respondents think AI would do better than humans at evaluating all job applicants in the same way, while a much smaller share -- 15 percent -- believe AI would be worse than humans in doing that.
  • Among those who believe that bias along racial and ethnic lines is a problem in performance evaluations generally, more believe that greater use of AI by employers would make things better rather than worse in the hiring and worker-evaluation process.
  • Asked about potentially beneficial or harmful effects of AI in workplaces in the next 20 years, a higher share say it will hurt more than help workers than say the inverse. About a third of Americans (32 percent) think the benefits and harms will be equally split for workers generally, while 22 percent are not sure about its potential effect.
  • When it comes to Americans' opinions about the impact of AI use in the workplace on the overall U.S. economy, 56 percent think over the next 20 years the impact will be major, while 22 percent believe it will be minor. A small fraction (3 percent) say there will be no impact and 19 percent are not sure.
  • By a 55 percent to 14 percent margin, adults oppose the prospect that employers would use information collected and analyzed by AI about their workers' job performance to decide whether someone should be fired from their job.
  • About two-thirds of Americans say they would not want to apply for a job if AI were used to help make hiring decisions.
  • Public believes AI would be better than humans in treating applicants equally but would struggle with seeing potential in candidates.
  • Surveillance, data mismanagement, misinterpretations are among potential outcomes the public foresees in AI-enabled workplaces.
  • About half of Americans say AI would do a better job than humans at treating all job applicants in the same way.
  • Lack of "human factor" is most common reason for not wanting to apply for job that uses AI in the hiring process.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.