Most harmful changes in digital life likely by 2035


According to a new Pew Research Center canvassing, experts are highly optimistic about the potential impact of generative artificial intelligence (AI) and other AI applications on various aspects of life by the year 2035. These digital advances are expected to revolutionize numerous domains, driven by the rapid progress made in the field of AI.

Generative AI, in particular, has captured attention due to its ability to create original and creative content autonomously. This technology holds immense potential in fields such as art, literature, music, and design, where AI algorithms can generate unique and innovative pieces. Experts foresee a future where generative AI contributes to the cultural and creative landscape, pushing the boundaries of human imagination and offering new possibilities.

Beyond generative AI, experts anticipate significant advancements in other AI applications as well. AI is poised to revolutionize industries such as healthcare, transportation, manufacturing, and finance. In healthcare, AI-powered systems can enhance diagnostic accuracy, enable personalized treatments, and improve patient outcomes. Transportation is expected to benefit from autonomous vehicles, reducing accidents and congestion while providing more efficient and convenient transportation options. The manufacturing sector can leverage AI to optimize production processes, improve quality control, and streamline supply chains. AI is also predicted to revolutionize finance by enabling sophisticated algorithms for risk assessment, fraud detection, and investment strategies.

Furthermore, the experts surveyed believe that AI will have a profound impact on education, agriculture, and governance. AI-based educational tools can personalize learning experiences, adapting to individual students’ needs and enhancing educational outcomes. In agriculture, AI can optimize crop management, monitor environmental factors, and improve overall productivity. In governance, AI has the potential to enhance decision-making processes, optimize public services, and facilitate data-driven policies.

However, while experts have high expectations for these advancements, they also acknowledge potential challenges and risks. Ethical considerations, data privacy concerns, and the impact on the job market are some of the areas that require careful attention as AI continues to evolve. Ensuring responsible and transparent use of AI technologies will be crucial to harness their full potential and address any unintended consequences.

The concerns raised by experts in the Pew Research Center canvassing highlight the potential darker sides of the technological developments they celebrate. These concerns encompass various categories:

  • Existential Risk: Some experts share the apprehension expressed by technology leaders and AI specialists regarding the potential “risk of extinction” posed by AI. They argue that the development and deployment of AI should be treated with the same urgency as pandemics and nuclear war. The fear lies in the possibility of AI systems surpassing human control and causing unintended consequences that could have catastrophic effects on humanity.
  • Misinformation and Manipulation: Generative AI systems, while impressive in their creative abilities, have been associated with concerns related to misinformation and manipulation. Experts have noted that these systems can produce erroneous and unexplainable content, which can be used to spread misinformation and deceive people. The use of generative AI in generating deepfakes, for example, raises concerns about the erosion of trust and the potential harm to individuals and democratic systems.
  • Surveillance and Privacy: The rapid advancement and widespread adoption of digital technologies have raised fears about the potential for extensive surveillance and the erosion of privacy. Experts worry that the combination of emerging technologies could enable blanket surveillance of vast populations, infringing upon individual rights and freedoms. The concerns extend to the potential manipulation and exploitation of personal data, leading to threats against democratic systems and the overall information environment.
  • Socioeconomic Implications: The experts express apprehension about the potential socioeconomic consequences of technological advancements. They fear massive unemployment resulting from automation and AI replacing human jobs. Additionally, there are concerns about the proliferation of global crime facilitated by digital technologies. Furthermore, experts worry that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few large companies could exacerbate existing inequalities and lead to social and economic imbalances.
  • Mental Health and Social Impacts: The weaponization of social media platforms is another area of concern. Experts fear that the manipulation and spread of disinformation on these platforms could have population-level impacts on mental health, causing stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. The rapid dissemination of harmful content and the potential for online harassment raise concerns about the overall well-being and social cohesion of communities.

The canvassed experts expressed their concerns regarding upcoming technological changes, with 79% stating that they are more concerned than excited or have an equal mix of concern and excitement. These respondents outlined their apprehensions in the following areas:

Human-Centered Development

Experts worry that profit incentives in economics and power incentives in politics may drive digital systems, leading to data collection aimed at controlling people rather than empowering them. They fear that ethical design will be an afterthought, resulting in the release of inadequately tested digital systems. This trend is seen as a threat to democratic systems and is likely to exacerbate inequality.

Human Rights

The experts express concerns about the erosion of privacy and the emergence of new threats to human rights. Surveillance advancements, the proliferation of deepfakes and disinformation, sophisticated bots, and facial recognition systems are seen as looming threats. They anticipate a wider spread of crimes and harassment, posing challenges to individuals’ agency and security. The anticipated impact of increasingly sophisticated AI systems on job loss is also a major concern, potentially leading to increased poverty and a decline in human dignity.

Human Knowledge

The experts fear that the abundance of mis- and disinformation will overshadow accurate knowledge. They worry that institutions dedicated to providing reliable information will be further undermined. The rise of entertaining distractions, targeted manipulation, and alternate realities created by emerging digital tools could drown out basic facts and impede progress. They express concerns that people’s cognitive skills may decline, and a class of “doubters” may hinder societal advancement.

Human Health and Well-being

The experts note that the increasing adoption of digital systems has already contributed to high levels of anxiety and depression. They anticipate these problems worsening as technology becomes more deeply integrated into people’s lives. Tech-mediated loneliness and social isolation, substitution of virtual experiences for real-life interactions, job displacements, and tech-based attacks are expected to further impact mental and physical well-being.

Human Connections, Governance, and Institutions

The experts are concerned that norms, standards, and regulations surrounding technology will not keep pace with its rapid development. They highlight worries about the rise of autonomous weapons, cyber warfare, and the potential for runaway digital systems. The accelerating pace of technological change could exacerbate distrust among people and erode faith in institutions. This may lead to increased polarization, cognitive dissonance, and withdrawal from vital discourse. The experts fear that digital systems will become too pervasive to avoid, making users feel captive.

These identified future harms underscore the importance of addressing the ethical, social, and regulatory dimensions of technological advancements. Proactive measures and responsible practices are necessary to mitigate these risks and ensure that digital tools and systems contribute positively to society.