EU and national surveys on attitudes to new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), indicate that general confidence among the public in the benefits is tempered by concerns about how some aspects of life might be affected such as health, home life, social relations and employment (Eurobarometer 2015, 2016). Some concerns relate to unforeseen uses but others to the unequal access to the benefits of scientific and technological innovation. However, the most feared aspect is “a lack of control (dependence on technology, complete automation, deskilling), a lack of human contact, of privacy, and unemployment” (ibid). This suggests that public engagement in AI policy and research projects is essential if individual and universal rights and dignity are to be respected and public trust achieved.
This paper draws upon the authors’ collective experiences deploying two distinct approaches to public engagement in technology and policy development for AI – the public survey and the citizen ‘think-in’. We situate these strategies historically in the context of different approaches to public engagement, and we place them on a spectrum from minimally engaged to active critical citizenship. We examine the challenges involved in both of these approaches, and the benefits obtained based on conducting and evaluating two such exercises conducted in 2017 and 2018.