Learning from consumer attitudes towards artificial intelligence

consumer attitudes

Rachel Roumeliotis, Vice President of Data and AI at O’Reilly, discusses how artificial intelligence (AI) creators can analyse consumer attitudes towards AI and implement them into how they develop new solutions in the future

Much like robotics or space travel, many people continue to view artificial intelligence (AI) as a futuristic technology far from the reality of everyday life. Even as AI permeates almost all industries and becomes inextricably linked with many technological developments, consumers continue to be detached from its role in their lives.

With very little awareness of the fact, AI has been assimilated into general society. Consumers employ AI tools each day for the most routine of tasks, not realising that the tech that enables them to do so is rooted in artificial intelligence. From using a map app for directions, browsing social media, and even the autocorrect tool that consistently improves text quality, all of these are enabled and augmented by AI.

Developers, you might be questioning the importance of understanding consumer attitudes towards AI. However, bear in mind that for new technology to be widely accepted and adopted, its benefits and purposes must be understood. Consumers want technology that augments experiences or simplifies tasks. If a technology doesn’t have a clear benefit, it will not be readily accepted.

In other words, developers can more easily predict the success of the technologies they develop, if they understand what it is that consumers want from AI.

Consumer expectations

O’Reilly recently conducted research to gauge consumer AI awareness and better understand how they want to see it applied. When asked what first came to mind when they thought about AI, the top three responses for consumers were robotics, self-driving cars and virtual assistants. Unless it’s being controlled by them, driving at them or shouting from across the living room, most consumers don’t know its day-to-day impact. The results suggest that, while AI may be implanted into our lives in more ways than we recognise, consumers are not always aware of it, nor do they necessarily see a benefit to it.

Knowledge of AI is limited to areas where there is a direct path to a benefit. Consumers are primarily outcome-focused – technologies that provide a service such as saving money or time, answering questions, increasing safety or providing entertainment are most valued. Our survey highlighted that smart home technology is regarded as the most useful form of AI by more than half (58%) of consumers, followed by home security systems (54%), travel recommendations (52%) and virtual assistants (50%).

Conversely, the assessment of AI’s usefulness at work among consumers was more mixed. Automation is the most desired AI work application, but by only 22% of consumers (rising to 31% among those working in financial services and marketing). There was even less appetite for using AI to help make business decisions, with only 11% of consumers in favour. This rose to 28% of IT workers and bottomed out with only 2% of transport and logistics workers as supportive. A general indifference to AI likely stems from job security fears. Consumers are concerned that AI could eventually replace the need for a human role in certain sectors or specialisms. While it’s true that AI will replace certain routine tasks, it will not replace the need for humans. In fact, the integration of AI in business operations has the potential to create new and more engaging roles for employees.

Capturing the imagination

Our survey suggested that, while developers may be looking to broaden the scope and application of AI, consumers aren’t necessarily ready for such change – at home or at work.

AI experts and AI novices may never be totally united on how or why AI technologies should be applied, however, there are benefits to a mutual understanding. Alignment on how AI can improve the everyday life of consumers will increase the likelihood of acceptance of this new technology. From the developer’s perspective, it will give better insight into what consumers value and want most, enabling the creation of tools that will genuinely benefit consumers’ lives.

An understanding of consumer ideals and opinion towards AI will enable developers to make solutions that capture the imagination and generate excitement. This certainly offers financial benefit, enabling developers to capitalise on the intrigue that certain technologies create but, beyond that, it offers new potential to shape consumer conception and broaden the scope of AI application. However, alignment requires AI-creators to also expand their ideas of how and where AI should be applied, to look beyond the ‘tech sphere’ and consider what a consumer would want. To do this, developers can reflect on how AI can be leveraged to improve everyday life, augment experiences and create excitement.

A true understanding of user expectations and ideals is critical. It informs design and creates greater opportunity for success by giving more of what consumers want. Developers should remember that they too are consumers – and isn’t a little bit of excitement fun?


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