Survey finds relatively few Americans actually use (or fear) ChatGPT

From its prominence in the tech world, you might think that everyone on the planet is using ChatGPT or some other AI tool for everything from automating their job to planning their garden. But recent Pew polling suggests the language model isn’t quite as popular or threatening as some would have you think.

Ongoing polling by Pew Research shows that although ChatGPT is gaining mindshare, only about 18% of Americans have ever actually used it. Of course that changes by demographic: Men, those 18-29 and the college educated are more likely to have used the system, though even among those groups it’s 30-40%. (You can see further breakdowns of this in the chart below.)

It’s still a remarkably fast ascent for a technology that was all but unheard of a year ago. You don’t generally get two thirds of America hearing about something like hypervisors or a new model of phone in that stretch of time.

More people reported using it for “entertainment” or “to learn something” than for work, which tracks with the anecdotal evidence of people trying the chatbot out now and then or using it casually to sum up some unfamiliar field. “What’s the Higgs boson” or “Tell me a fairy tale about Timothée Chalamet” is more common than “Write a Python script to extract title and abstract from a given database of neuroscience papers.”

Image Credits: Pew Research Center

That said, among those who have heard of ChatGPT said it is likely to have a major impact on software engineers, graphic designers and journalists; we may safely speculate that there is some conflation of other generative and interpretive AI models in there, and the sense is that AI in general, not necessarily ChatGPT specifically, will lead to this impact.

Overall, though, only 19% of employed people who’d heard of the model thought it would affect their job in a major way, and 27% expect no impact whatsoever. Interestingly, even fewer people (15%) thought it would be helpful. But people in the “information and technology” sector especially, along with those in education and finance, are much more likely to expect major or minor changes. Few in hospitality, entertainment and hands-on industries like construction and manufacturing reported feeling that way.

In a separate and slightly more recent polling analysis, Pew researchers found that people are much more concerned in general about the role of AI in everyday life: 47%, up from 31% last year, said AI makes them “more concerned than excited.” And the more they know (or think they know) about AI, the more concerned they are.

This all tracks with the general sense about AI that we have seen in the popular discourse: That we don’t know quite what is going to happen, and that makes us uneasy. It could be helpful, it could be invasive, it could require regulation, it might just totally pass your industry by. But it’s likely that in another year from now, an even greater majority will have heard of ChatGPT and its cousins — and they’ll probably have stronger opinions about it too.

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