Empowering Citizens in the Age of AI: The Importance of Efficacy and Literacy

For years, researchers have grappled with understanding the relationship between technology and political behavior, proposing various models to explain how exposure to information and engagement with technology shapes citizens’ attitudes and actions.

These models, however, have often yielded conflicting results, leaving unanswered questions about the true nature of this relationship.

Seeking to shed new light on this issue, a team of researchers from the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC) has developed a novel approach to examine how AI-related news consumption, discussions and literacy influence citizens’ support for AI policies.

The study was led by UFCJC doctoral student Fanjue Liu and co-authored by Heidi Makady, UFCJC Ph.D. 2023, Seungahn Nah, Dianne Snedaker Chair in Media Trust and Research Director for the Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology, and Media Production, Management, and Technology Associate Professor Jasmine McNealy.

The team developed their own model, which they dubbed Orientation-Stimulus-Reasoning-Orientation-Response (O-S-R-O-R), to investigate the factors that drive citizen’ support for AI policies. This model considers how an individual’s predispositions, exposure to information and cognitive processes shape their attitudes and behaviors.

The researchers analyzed data from 1,252 responses to a national online survey, focusing on the role of “AI efficacy,” which refers to an individual’s belief in their own ability to effectively use and interact with AI technologies. They sought to answer key questions, such as how AI efficacy affects the relationship between AI-related news consumption, discussions, literacy and support for AI policies.

The findings reveal that AI efficacy plays a crucial role in this dynamic. The study shows that citizens who feel more confident in their ability to navigate AI technologies are more likely to engage in discussions, enhance their AI literacy and ultimately support AI policies.

These results highlight the importance of fostering AI efficacy among citizens to encourage informed engagement with AI-related issues and policies. Further, the study suggests that efforts to promote AI literacy and empower individuals to effectively use AI technologies can have a significant impact on shaping public attitudes and support for AI governance.

The implications of these findings extend beyond the realm of AI policies. The model provides a framework for understanding how citizens’ engagement with other emerging technologies can influence their political attitudes and behaviors.

By recognizing the interplay of efficacy, information consumption, discussions and literacy, policymakers and educators can develop targeted strategies to enhance public understanding and participation in the governance of new technologies.

The study underscores the need for further research to explore the factors that contribute to the development of AI efficacy and how it can be nurtured through educational initiatives and public outreach efforts. As AI continues to permeate various aspects of society, empowering citizens to effectively navigate this technological landscape will be critical for fostering informed public discourse and ensuring that AI policies reflect the values and interests of the broader community.

The original paper, “When Citizens Support AI Policies: The Moderating Roles of AI” was published online in the Journal of Information Technology & Politics on December 25, 2023.

Authors: Fanjue Liu. Heidi Makady, Seungahn Nah and Jasmine E. McNealy.

This summary was written by Gigi Marino.

Posted: April 9, 2024
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