Experts have warned that more research is needed into the effects of technology such as artificial intelligence on behaviour, after research showed it can lead to people taking more risks.

The research team found that a placebo effect appears to be at work when people believe their performance is being boosted by technologies like AI. Those people with high expectations of these performance technologies were found to take more risks when it came to decision-making.

The team behind the findings say that more studies are needed so people have a better understanding of how these technologies can influence behaviour.

Robin Welsch, assistant professor at Aalto University in Finland, said: “Individuals are more inclined to take risks when they believe they are enhanced by cutting-edge technologies like AI or brain-computer interfaces.

“This occurs even if no actual enhancement technology is involved, indicating that it’s about people’s expectations rather than any noticeable improvement. The findings also imply that a strong belief in improvement, based on a fake system, can alter decision-making.”

Researchers used an established psychological experiment, the Columbia Card Task, to gauge participants’ level of risk-taking when they thought AI was in use. It involves participants gain or lose points as they reveal cards with hidden values. The group, made up of 27 participants, were led to believe that a form of AI was in use to improve their cognitive abilities.

However, the participants did not know the game was rigged and that the performance technology provided little benefit. Despite this, most of the group believed AI had helped to improve their performance, which led them to engage in riskier decision-making.

Steeven Villa, doctoral researcher at LMU Munich, said: “The hype surrounding these technologies skews people’s expectations. It can lead people to make riskier decisions and favourable user evaluations, which can have real consequences.”

With more and more sectors employing the use of AI, such as the use of vision enhancement technology to enable firefighters to see through smoke, the researchers have raised concerns that bigger appetite for risk could creep into entire professions, based on skewed expectations.

Thomas Kosch, professor at HU Berlin, said: “AI-based technologies that enhance users are increasingly common and play a role in real-life decisions that impact people’s lives, well-being, confidence, and safety. To ensure the effectiveness of new technologies beyond the hype, placebo-controlled studies are necessary for accurate evaluation and validation to tell apart snake-oil from real innovation.”

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