How much responsibility do we have to treat human-like AI well?
January 15th, 2024, Christien Pheby

How much responsibility do we have to treat human-like AI well?

Much of the conversation around AI development focuses on what the technology will do to human beings – will it make us wildly productive, steal our jobs, replace our spouses, usher in techno-utopia or butcher us all to make paperclips?

But there’s also some conversation around the other proposition: what human beings will do to AI. The writer Ted Chiang, for instance, says that we shouldn’t create a sentient machine intelligence because we would inflict “uncountable amounts of suffering” on it, and new YouGov polling suggests there might be some truth in this.

We asked Britons about whether or not human beings have a duty to treat an artificial general intelligence (AGI) system – one that can think and learn like a human being – well. Over half said we have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of responsibility (53%), but this doesn’t necessarily mean they expect it to happen.

When asked if they think people would treat an AI that could think or feel like a human being well, just 15% said they expected it to be treated well – with half (50%) saying they expected it to be treated poorly. So Chiang’s assertion that we would inflict suffering on it is one the public are more likely to agree with than not.

We also asked about how Britons think a hypothetical AI superintelligence – one more intellectually capable than even the smartest human beings – would treat people, and, by 42% to 15%, the expectation there (one possibly informed by decades of Terminator and Matrix films) is that it would treat us poorly. So perhaps it’s worth getting in AI’s good graces early – lest we all face an involuntary trip to the paperclip factory.


YouGov Surveys: Serviced provide quick survey results from nationally representative or targeted audiences in multiple markets. This study was conducted online on 1-4 December 2023, with a nationally/ representative sample of 2082 adults (aged 18+ years) in Great Britain, using a questionnaire designed by YouGov. Data figures have been weighted by age, gender, education and social grade to be representative of all adults in Great Britain (18 years or older), and reflect the latest ONS population estimates. Learn more about YouGov Surveys: Serviced.