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News Briefs | Global Survey of Views on Science, Robotic Dogs Help Police

By Julie Lays | Oct. 26, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

Survey: Views on Science and Artificial Intelligence Vary Globally

Most people around the world view scientists and their research positively and believe they can be trusted to do the right thing, according to a new international survey by The Pew Research Center. Most also agree that government investments in scientific research yield benefits for society.

In the U.S., the portion of respondents with a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in scientists to “act in the public interest” varied from a high of 93% of those with post-graduate degrees to 85% of Gen Xers to 79% of Black people.

But there was less agreement on certain scientific developments—such as artificial intelligence, described for survey respondents as computer systems designed to imitate human behaviors (and, in the case of Spot, canine behavior as well).

AI is generally viewed positively in the Asia-Pacific region. Elsewhere public views are mixed. Roughly half of the respondents in Brazil (53%), Russia (52%), the U.S. and Europe (47%) and Canada (46%) say the development of AI has been good for society.

In all places, those with higher levels of education and who have taken more science courses in school are more likely to consider AI as a positive development for society. Views tend to be less positive among the less educated.

Massachusetts: Robotic Dog Pals With Police

The Massachusetts State Police is testing the abilities of a robotic dog to conduct perilous law enforcement work like remotely inspecting potentially hazardous objects and environments that might contain armed suspects or explosive devices, The Washington Post reports.

Boston Dynamics is the creator of Spot, a $75,000 semiautonomous 70-pound, four-legged robot that can run up to 3 mph and is shown in videos climbing up and down stairs, dancing to Bruno Mars, hauling a large truck and opening a door, according to the story.

The company has said it is very clear with customers that it doesn’t want its robots used to physically harm anybody. The robotic dog was leased to the Massachusetts law enforcement agency’s bomb squad for three months this fall to evaluate its potential in public safety work. “The Massachusetts State Police have used robots to assist in responses to hazardous situations for many years, deploying them to examine suspicious items and to clear high-risk locations,” the agency said in a statement, downplaying the novelty of Spot.

The news attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, however, which released a statement that said in part: “We urgently need more transparency from government agencies, who should be up front with the public about their plans to test and deploy new technologies. We also need statewide regulations to protect civil liberties, civil rights and racial justice in the age of artificial intelligence.”

The statement went on to say the organization is willing to work with state and local officials to ensure laws keep pace with technology.

Julie Lays is the editor of State Legislatures magaizne.

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