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Findings from Fortune Brainstorm Tech: Understanding the backlash against new technologies

Findings from Fortune Brainstorm Tech: Understanding the backlash against new technologies

Fortune magazine’s annual Brainstorm Tech conference brings industry leaders together to discuss important new trends and issues. SurveyMonkey has been a proud Brainstorm Tech partner since 2017, and this year, we provided public opinion data for both the keynote speech and round table discussions. Here are some highlights from 2018:

The 2018 Brainstorm Tech keynote focused on the growing “techlash” (backlash against tech) regarding data privacy, artificial intelligence (AI), and the concentration of power in Silicon Valley. SurveyMonkey conducted an exclusive survey for the event.

Overall, we found the public was skeptical about the benefits of AI, with more people calling it “creepy” than “cool” (56% vs. 43%). Most people are worried AI will be used to violate their privacy (73%)--whether intentionally or not. A similar percentage (72%) believe AI takes away more jobs than it creates in 10 years, and a slight 52% majority see the technology as doing more to increase income inequality than decrease it.

We also learned that while people are generally concerned about their data privacy online, young adults are more willing to accept risk in exchange for the freedom and convenience of the internet.

Young adults ages 18 to 24 are the most likely to be online constantly, and also the least likely to say they think about their personal privacy every time they use the web. They are also by far the most likely to consider online services essential for modern life, and to think that these services inherently bring some risk to personal data.

Finally, we looked at public perception of specific tech companies in the wake of some data misuse scandals earlier this year. Among the three major technology companies asked about in this survey, Facebook has the most negative trust rating--only 26% express confidence in the social network to handle their personal info, while 67%, do not.

Google fares nearly as poorly (42% vs. 56%), while Apple ekes out an even trust score (41 percent on each side). News sites do no better: by a 43-point margin, more people have little or no trust in how news sites handle their data than people who trust.

Speakers for the centerpiece event, which was moderated by Jo Ling Kent of NBC News, included: Tristan Harris of the Center for Humane Technology, Amy Banse of Comcast Ventures, Natalie Evans Harris of BrightHive, Jeff Glueck of Foursquare, and Hemant Taneja of General Catalyst.

Jon Cohen, SurveyMonkey’s Chief Research Officer, presented the results of a second survey of over 2,000 people in a morning roundtable discussion moderated by Fortune’s Ellen McGirt. This survey focused specifically on bias, with similarly negative findings about public feeling toward technology.

When thinking about the increasing role of AI, algorithms, and data science in our everyday lives, most people think that technology increases bias rather than helping to reduce it--a full 70% of people believe tech does more to justify biased decisions than to remove bias from decision-making.

People put the blame for that increased bias mostly on technology companies: 68% of respondents identified the people who build the technology, as opposed to the tech itself, as the source of the problem.

In spite of  all the problems that technology solves, Silicon Valley companies are increasingly having to answer for the issues tech creates. They will have a way to go in order to win back public trust.

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