AI is a threat to privacy—this is how 76.3% of Chinese people feel about artificial intelligence technology according to a survey of 8,000 participants carried out by CCTV and Tencent Research. Facial recognition was the usage of AI for which respondents had the highest awareness, and over half felt AI was already having an impact on their work and life.

The survey also revealed a high awareness of AI among the population. The tech firm and State-run TV network conducted an additional set of questions on AI as part of the annual TV show that publicizes the results of the larger China Economic Life Survey (《中国经济生活大调查》).

AI’s threat to personal privacy. (Image credit: Tencent/CCTV)


The respondents were asked about various aspects of AI and how it affects and could affect them. The AI usage categories with the highest awareness among survey participants were autonomous driving at 59.2%, health at 45.2%, education at 40.5%, and finance at 38.3%.

Awareness of AI applications L-R: facial recognition, language recognition, autonomous driving, translation, speech synthesis, personalized recommendation, other. (Image credit: Tencent/CCTV)

Drilling down to individual applications of AI, the highest level of awareness was of facial recognition, at 68.8% of respondents. This was followed closely by language recognition at 63.1% and autonomous driving was third at 47.3%. In 6th place at 15.4% was personalized recommendations as popularized by Bytedance’s Toutiao news app.

In terms of events in 2017 that caught public attention, a Baidu stunt where CEO Robin Li was seen live streaming a journey in a car running on Apollo on Beijing’s fifth ring road to launch the platform was the most known, with 50.9% being aware of it.

Existing and potential threat

76.3% see certain uses of AI as a threat to their own privacy and 31.7% said they already felt the technology threatened their livelihoods.

Dove of Wellbeing (幸福鸽) presented to mark the AI event. (Image credit: TechNode)

AI will have an impact on every industry, said 77.8% respondents. 91.2% think AI has an effect on their work, made up of 50.4% saying they have already felt the impact of AI in their own work and another 40.8% believing that AI technologies will have an impact on their livelihoods.

When asked whether they thought AI to be a threat to their livelihoods, 31.7% said they already felt its threat, 50.6% said they believed it would be a threat but were yet to feel it and 17.7% responded with “no, people are the most important”.

Blue: already feeling an impact on own work. Orange: AI will have an effect but not yet felt. (Image credit Tencent/CCTV)

Respondents were asked if they will proactively research AI and 78% said yes. 90% said they would study AI if given the opportunity and 91% would have their children learn about it. 85.7% would try a health-related application of AI and 90% would be willing to experience autonomous driving.

The China Economic Life Survey covers 100,000 households in first, second and third tier cities across China. It covers 16 to 60-year-olds. It is carried out by CCTV, the National Bureau of Statistics of China, and China Post and has been running since 2006, covering over a million households. The AI section of this year’s CCTV television program about the results was arranged in collaboration with Tencent Research (腾讯社会研究中心, literally ‘Tencent Social Research Center”).

Wu Gansha of Yushi Keji talks about the challenge of designing a car built for autonomous driving and the benefits it will bring society. (Image credit: TechNode)

Held at Tencent Club in central Beijing, the event was hosted by CCTV’s Ma Hongtao and guests from Tencent, Microsoft, IBM, Yushi Keji, and neurologist and editor of Zhishi Fenzi magazine, Lu Bai. The panel discussed their own company’s efforts in AI and how they see AI impacting on people’s lives.

Frank Hersey

Frank Hersey is a Beijing-based tech reporter who's been coming to China since 2001. He tries to go beyond the headlines to explain the context and impact of developments in China's tech sector. Get in...

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