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Portrayals and perceptions of AI and why they matter

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Craig, Claire 
Montgomery, Jessica 


How researchers, communicators, policymakers, and publics talk about technology matters. Shared understandings about the nature, promise and risks of new technologies develop through the explicit or implicit stories that different groups tell about technology and its place in our lives.

The AI narratives project – a joint endeavour by the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and the Royal Society – has been examining which narratives currently influence public debates about AI, and how these portrayals might shape public perceptions of the capabilities, risks, and benefits of AI technologies.

Many of the current ideas about AI technologies that are pervasive in public consciousness – typically that AI is an embodied, super-human intelligence – are shaped by hundreds of years of stories that people have told about humans and machines, and our places in the world. This cultural hinterland shapes how AI is portrayed in media, culture, and everyday discussion; it influences what societies find concerning – or exciting – about technological developments; and it affects how different publics relate to AI technologies.

Building a well-founded public dialogue about AI technologies will be key to continued public confidence in the systems that deploy AI technologies, and to realising the benefits they promise across sectors. Since the launch of the machine learning project, the Royal Society has been creating spaces for public discussion about AI technologies, and their implications for society.

In a series of four workshops, the Royal Society and Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence explored:

which narratives around intelligent machines are most prevalent, and their historical roots;
what can be learned from how the narrative around other complex, new technologies developed, and the impact of these;
how narratives are shaping the development of AI, and the role of arts and media in this process; and
the implications of current AI narratives for researchers and communicators.

The report brings together the conclusions of these workshops, and is for anyone interested in how AI is portrayed and perceived.



artificial intelligence, science communication, narratives, AI narratives, robots, science fiction, public engagement

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The Royal Society

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Drs Cave, Dihal, and Dillon are funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Centre Grant awarded to the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence. Dr Singler was funded by a Templeton World Charitable Foundation grant during the course of the AI narratives project, awarded to the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund's College, Cambridge.