Geopolitics

U.S.-E.U. Coordination on Artificial Intelligence Shouldn’t Ignore U.S. Voters’ Concerns About Jobs

Trans-Atlantic cooperation on AI is increasingly focused on threats to democratic values, but U.S. voters want leaders to pay more attention to its impact on their jobs

Graphic conveying coordination between the EU and US on AI regulations
  • While U.S. and E.U. negotiators are focusing on how to address bias in artificial intelligence following the Trade and Technology Council’s May 2022 ministerial meeting, U.S. voters are more concerned that AI could replace workers and cause unemployment. 

  • Despite this mismatch, Americans are broadly wary of unfettered deployment of AI applications and want the United States and the European Union to coordinate on regulation. 

  • This public support presages progress toward a trans-Atlantic risk-based approach, which could place more restrictions on U.S. tech companies’ deployment of AI. 

  • Tech companies seeking to shape U.S. input into this approach — especially in the crucial period before the passage of the European Union’s AI Act — should emphasize the potential for AI to create good jobs and drive growth, and highlight voters’ more limited concerns about privacy and racial/gender biases.

United States and European Union find common ground on AI regulation

Artificial intelligence is a relatively new focus of bilateral tech discussions between the United States and the European Union. In contrast to issues like data transfers, which have been evergreen (and ever problematic) since the late ’90s, attempts to establish joint norms on AI usage are fairly recent, only gaining steam in the last couple of years. For its part, the European Union has already staked out a clear position on AI regulation via its draft AI Act: a risk-based method whereby regulators group AI systems based on the level of risk they pose and regulate them accordingly (or require companies to self-regulate).  

Coming out of September 2021’s inaugural meeting of the U.S.-E.U. Trade and Technology Council, a trans-Atlantic forum that aims to facilitate cooperation across a variety of issues, the United States and European Union resolved to “develop and implement AI systems that are innovative and trustworthy and that respect universal human rights and shared democratic values.”

This week’s follow-up meeting led to the announcement of a “joint road map on evaluation and measurement tools for trustworthy AI and risk management, as well as a common project on privacy-enhancing technologies.” These announcements point to increasing trans-Atlantic alignment on a risk-based approach. This may be a net positive for companies deploying AI applications on both sides of the Atlantic, as they would benefit from policy harmonization, but it could also entail new restrictions for U.S. companies using AI at home if the United States follows the European Union’s tougher line on AI regulation.

U.S. voters are worried about privacy and AI bias, but they’re more worried about jobs

But it turns out U.S. voters are less concerned about whether AI will violate their democratic values — like the right to privacy, as well as racial and gender equality — than they are about whether it will take their jobs. Two-thirds of U.S. voters believe that AI could eliminate jobs and cause unemployment. A smaller but still sizable share of voters (54%) agree it could lead to privacy violations. The shares who agree that AI could lead to biases against women or people from certain racial and ethnic backgrounds fall much further down the list. In the context of ongoing discussions on AI regulation under the auspices of the TTC, the gap suggests that U.S. voters would prefer the Biden administration to focus first on ensuring that AI does not lead to unemployment and address challenges related to privacy and certain types of bias second.

U.S. Voters’ Concerns That AI Will Replace Workers Outweigh Those About Privacy and Bias

Respondents were asked whether they agree that the use of artificial intelligence will do the following:

Survey conducted May 3-5, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,005 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

U.S. voters still favor cooperating with the European Union on AI standards

The share of voters concerned about job loss and unemployment also outweighs the more than half of voters who see positive benefits arising from AI, like the potential to create jobs in new industries or to solve intractable problems in mathematics and health care. This gap likely informs voters’ strong preference that the United States and European Union establish principles for the ethical use of AI rather than allow companies on both sides of the Atlantic to make and sell AI applications with no ex-ante regard for ethical concerns.  

Nearly 3 in 5 Voters Want U.S.-E.U. Agreement on Ethical AI Principles

Respondents were asked which of the following statements best reflects their opinion:

Survey conducted May 9-12, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,005 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

U.S. voters’ interest in seeing trans-Atlantic cooperation on AI ethics also leads the pack relative to a host of other values-based issues under discussion within the TTC, even though only 29% of voters said they had heard “some” or “a lot” about artificial intelligence bias.

Voters Say It’s More Important for the U.S. and E.U. to Cooperate on Ethical Standards in AI Than on Other Values-Based Issues

Respondents were asked how important it is for the United States and European Union to cooperate on the following issues:

Survey conducted May 9-12, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,005 registered voters, with a margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Companies face a critical juncture for shaping the United States’ approach to AI regulation

Tech or other companies deploying AI solutions in the United States should take note of its drift toward a risk-based approach in line with the AI Act that is making its way through the E.U. legislative process. This development, and the work of the AI subgroup in the TTC, have a strong demand signal from U.S. voters. 

At the same time, the tech industry is at a critical juncture for providing input that could, at the margins, shape the United States’ approach to AI regulation and its cooperation with Europe. As industry leaders engage with policymakers, they should deploy narratives about employment and privacy that will resonate with U.S. voters — a precondition for making regulatory progress in a midterm election year, amid a polarized U.S. political climate. This, in turn, could facilitate greater public-private dialogue on trans-Atlantic AI norms, both under the auspices of the TTC and elsewhere.

Morning Consult