Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character is a top example of artificial intelligence, according to nearly one-in-five confused Britons.
Some 19% believed Arnie’s cyborg assassin from the 1984 blockbuster film was a prime illustration of the technology.
The revelation stands in stark contrast to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s claim in a speech last week that Britain could “lead the world” in AI.
A survey carried out into people’s understanding of artificial intelligence lays bare how much work remains to be done.
In the hit “I’ll be back” science-fiction movie, the T-800 Terminator is sent back in time from 2029 to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton.
Her son will one day become a saviour against machines in a post-apocalyptic future – and needs to be destroyed.
AI pioneer Yoshua Bengio told the BBC in October 2019 he was not a fan of the Terminator films.
“They paint a picture which is really not coherent with the current understanding of how AI systems are built today and in the foreseeable future,” he said.
“We are very far from super-intelligent AI systems and there may even be fundamental obstacles to get much beyond human intelligence.”
But for 19% Britons, the film is a chilling demonstration of what AI can offer.
The reality is more useful – predictive texting on mobile phones uses AI, as do apps like Uber and Google Maps.
However, just 41% of people questioned believed they had encountered AI in the past three months.
Researchers uncovered big gender gaps, with 69% of women saying they did not know when they last encountered AI – if they ever had.
Some 51% of men thought they had used it in the past 12 weeks.
The online Populus study of 1,093 adults was carried out for communications agency Zinc Network.
Executive director Louis Brooke said: “The Government has laid out an ambitious agenda for AI, seeking to turn the UK into a world leader in this area.
“AI will play a vital role in helping the UK exit lockdown and overhauling health, education, travel and the workplace.
“Yet this data shows public understanding of AI is chronically low, particularly amongst women.
“For the public to buy into new uses for AI technologies, it will be vital to ensure that innovations are well understood, and benefit those who may be the most sceptical.”
Some of those quizzed readily understood the technology, saying they thought it included “any sort of robot that can react to its surroundings and doesn’t need programming” and “chat bots used by companies to deal with customer service queries”.
But others were more fearful of AI’s potential to oust humans from the workplace.
One described it as “work done by machines replacing humans” and another as “creepy Japanese humanoids”.
Others “totally missed the point”, according to researchers, with responses including “artificial insemination, as with cows and other animals for breeding” and “aliens”.