Thursday, 06 April 2017 01:43

Australians fearful of Artificial Intelligence and a robot ‘takeover’

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Australians fearful of Artificial Intelligence and a robot ‘takeover’ Image courtesy of COOLDESIGN at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Consumers are confused about what Artificial Intelligence (AI) really does, resulting in misplaced fears that inhibit them from embracing AI-based technology, according to new research.

The global study, by customer engagement software company Pegasystems, reveals that 67% of Australians expressed some sort of fear about AI, while 18% were worried that robots would take over the world.

According to Pega, the misunderstanding of AI by consumers is having a negative effect on their openness to using AI.

In the survey of 6000 customers across the US, Britain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands — including 1000 Australians — Pega says consumers appear hesitant to fully embrace AI devices and services.

“While Australians are some of the most open to the uptake of AI, still just 40% (compared with 36% globally) are comfortable with businesses using AI to engage with them – even if this typically results in a better customer experience.

The survey also found that only 25% of global respondents who have no AI experience feel at ease with a business using AI to engage them, while for those who understand AI, this number jumps to 55%.

Other key Australian findings from the survey include:

  •     Australians aren’t aware that they are already interacting with AI.
  •     Only 36% thought that they had directly experienced AI although 87% of Australians use at least one AI-powered service or device.
  •     73% of Australians want to experience more AI if it will help make their lives easier.
  •     31% would be comfortable for a telecommunication provider to use AI to make better offers on new or renews mobile contracts.
  •     27% would be comfortable with a doctor using AI to help make a better diagnosis or recommendation about health treatment.

Pega says consumers may be surprised to learn they are already exposed to much more AI than they realise.

Only 37% of Australian respondents thought they had directly experienced AI, but when asked about the technologies in their lives, the survey found that 87% actually use at least one AI-powered service or device – such as virtual home assistants, intelligent chatbots, or predictive product suggestions.

And when asked separately to identify AI-powered devices, only 39% knew Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home run on AI.

According to Pega, fear of the unknown with consumers can be traced to a basic misunderstanding of AI.

In fact, the survey revealed that 74% of Australians confidently claimed that they understand AI, but far fewer could correctly define what it is or what it can do.

“For example, relatively few knew that AI has the basic ability to interpret or understand speech (36% ) or mimic humans (35%), while just over half could identify some of the most common AI capabilities, like solving problems (52%) and learning (61%), the report says.

According to Pega, the misperceptions are important because the study shows they have a negative effect on consumers’ openness to using AI.

The data shows that consumers are significantly more comfortable with AI if they think they have previously been exposed to it. Globally, only a quarter (25%) of the people who report no AI experience feel at ease with businesses using AI to engage with them. But for AI “veterans”, this number jumps to 55%.

But the study throws up contradictory findings, according to Pega.

“Somewhat contradictory to all of this, consumers also express optimism in the power of AI,” Pega observes.

And the study found that nearly three quarters of Australians (73% ) say they want to experience more AI if it will help make their lives easier.

“Taken together, the survey results suggest that businesses should be more transparent about the fair and pragmatic use of AI in their products and services. Companies should find non-threatening ways to expose customers to its benefits to change their misperceptions and establish trust and comfort over time,” Pega suggests.

“Though AI has been around for more than 30 years, it has now evolved to the point that businesses can engage with each individual consumer on a real-time, one-to-one basis,” said Don Schuerman, vice-president of product marketing and chief technology officer, Pegasystems.

“But our study suggests the recent hype is causing some confusion and fear among consumers, who may not really understand how it’s already being used and helping them every day. Businesses need to focus on using AI to develop applications that provide real value for customers to improve their experiences rather than overhyping the technology itself.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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