Algorithms are all around us, utilizing massive stores of data and complex analytics to make decisions with often significant impacts on humans. They recommend books and movies for us to read and watch, surface news stories they think we might find relevant, estimate the likelihood that a tumor is cancerous and predict whether someone might be a criminal or a worthwhile credit risk. But despite the growing presence of algorithms in many aspects of daily life, a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults finds that the public is frequently skeptical of these tools when used in various real-life situations.
This skepticism spans several dimensions. At a broad level, 58% of Americans feel that computer programs will always reflect some level of human bias – although 40% think these programs can be designed in a way that is bias-free. And in various contexts, the public worries that these tools might violate privacy, fail to capture the nuance of complex situations, or simply put the people they are evaluating in an unfair situation. Public perceptions of algorithmic decision-making are also often highly contextual. The survey shows that otherwise similar technologies can be viewed with support or suspicion depending on the circumstances or on the tasks they are assigned to do.