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Heldrich Center report reflects US workforce's thoughts on AI

The John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development recently released its Work Trends series' 2024 report, featuring statistics about the U.S. workforce's views on artificial intelligence. – Photo by Anushka Dhariwal

On February 7, the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development released a poll about the U.S. workforce's views on artificial intelligence. The Daily Targum discussed the survey's findings with leaders at the Heldrich Center.

Jessica Starace, a survey research manager at the Heldrich Center, said this survey, a follow-up to a similar project in 2018, was inspired by President Joseph R. Biden's executive order addressing AI in October 2023. She said some questions were replicated between the two polls to observe potential perspective shifts over six years.

She said she observed little change in responses. Unlike the 2018 poll, which made no mention of AI, 82 percent of the 2024 sample voted that it is at least somewhat important that the federal government act to protect against AI-related employment, according to the poll.

"A big trend that we saw was actually that there was no change since 2018 when we asked workers about needing technological skills … to achieve their career goals," Starace said. "They said the same as they would today, so that really hasn't changed."

She said the Heldrich Center used a sample from the Eagleton Institute of Politics to survey approximately 1,000 adults, approximately 700 of whom are U.S. workers.

"For the most part, workers are not sure if (AI is) good for the economy or not," she said. "So, it’ll be interesting to see, as the technology develops and generative AI becomes important, what workers think about AI and if that will change over time."

Carl Van Horn, a distinguished professor of public policy at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and founding director of the Heldrich Center, said that his experience in policy-advising roles in state and federal government contributed to his perspective on the Heldrich Center's recent work.

"The policy problems that policy makers deal with are difficult and complicated," he said. "And so, what's helpful is to — and what I've always dedicated my career to — is using evidence to help them address those problems."

Van Horn said that he became involved in the poll due to the longevity of the Heldrich Center's Work Trends survey series and increased public concerns about AI.

He also said the sample was randomly selected in order to be representative of the U.S. population.

"(We were) contacting people who are representative in terms of age, race, gender, et cetera, of the U.S. population," he said. "So, it's a better view and more accurate picture of how people who live in this country think about these issues."

Van Horn also discussed AI's societal significance and its implications for recent college graduates as they begin their careers.

"What I think is important for people to think about is, really, how will they engage with this?" he said. "And what do they think should be done as residents of this country to, in a sense, to achieve the positive things that generative AI can do without the negative consequences?"

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