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Survey suggests digital tech was ‘underused’ during pandemic


Government poll looked at public attitudes on the use of artificial intelligence and data-driven technology

Most people believe digital technology has a role to play in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic but feel its potential is not being fully realised, according to a new poll.

The survey, which was published by the UK government advisory body the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI), looked at public attitudes on the use of AI and data-driven technology in the UK’s Covid-19 response.

The study—which included over 12,000 people and ran from June to December 2020—found significant support for the use of data-driven technology to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic, with 72 per cent saying they felt digital technology had the potential to be used in response to the outbreak.

A majority of the public—around 69 per cent—showed support for specific cases, including technologies that have not been widely adopted, such as wearable technology to aid social distancing in the workplace.

However, many respondents felt that the potential for the technology was not being fully realised, with fewer than half—42 per cent—saying digital technology was making the situation in the UK better. Only 7 per cent claimed it was making it worse.

Another key finding was a clear relationship between trustworthy governance and support for the adoption of new technologies. The survey found that trust that the right rules and regulations are in place is the “single biggest predictor of whether someone will support the use of digital technology”.

Just under half—43 per cent—said existing rules and regulations were sufficient to ensure the technology is used responsibly, though, with 24 per cent disagreeing.

Edwina Dunn, deputy chair for the centre, said data-driven technologies including AI have “great potential for our economy and society”.

“We need to ensure that the right governance regime is in place if we are to unlock the opportunities that these technologies present. The CDEI will be playing its part to ensure that the UK is developing governance approaches that the public can have confidence in.”

John Whittingdale, Minister of State for Media and Data at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said: “This research confirms that public trust in how we govern data is essential.

“Through our National Data Strategy we have committed to unlocking the huge potential of data to tackle some of society’s greatest challenges, while maintaining our high standards of data protection and governance.”