Make no mistake about it, artificial intelligence (AI) has given rise to some truly deep, even apocalyptic, fears from some of our most respected thought leaders. Just two years ago, no less than the esteemed physicist Stephen Hawking told the BBC that "full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." SpaceX’s and Tesla Motors’ CEO Elon Musk expressed similar concerns when he equated AI with “summoning the demon.”
But how widely held are such dire predictions among segments of society other than some revered scientists and business leaders? Weber Shandwick with KRC Researchsurveyed consumers around the globe to find out. We half expected that fear of AI would run rampant throughout society. Not the case. People seem to be enthusiastic about AI’s potential benefits such as taking on dangerous tasks, saving time, providing better access to relevant information and offering products that provide convenience. Consumers also see the social impact benefits that AI can bring to energy and natural resource conservation, and to some extent the environment. Unlike Hawking and Musk, they have great hope that AI will improve humanity and their own lives in particular.
As described in AI-Ready or Not: Artificial Intelligence Here We Come! consumers in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., China and Brazil were, in aggregate, six times more likely to see AI’s impact on society as positive than negative (45% vs. 7%, respectively). When it comes to their personal lives, consumers are even more likely – seven times more – to think AI will have a positive, rather than a negative, impact (52% vs. 7%, respectively). In fact, only 8% of global consumers think AI is science fiction and will never materialize. The vast majority (92%) believes AI is already here, or is coming in the near future. Furthermore, 77% want AI’s development to accelerate or stay on its current growth trajectory while a mere 6% want AI to stop altogether. AI-acceptance is no longer a fiction, but reality.
Chinese consumers show greater optimism and acceptance of AI compared to the other markets surveyed. Relatively, Chinese consumers have the most positive perception of AI’s impact on society and their personal lives and have the deepest knowledge of AI. Mind you that most consumers in all markets first think of AI as robots and their knowledge does not extend to the broader range of technologies that AI actually encompasses today. Yet, Chinese consumers are more likely than consumers in other markets to see the benefits of AI and to report having been exposed to AI in the media within the past 30 days. Chinese consumers, albeit similar to Brazilian consumers, want the development of AI to either accelerate or stay at the same level it is today. U.S., U.K. and Canadian consumers are less eager to see AI develop so quickly.
China’s greater acceptance of AI is probably related to several converging dynamics. Chinese-based companies are fiercely competing with the U.S. and other technology giants in AI. Indeed, venture capitalists are throwing money at talent to entice them to join Chinese startups. Moreover, China is expected to surpass Japan this year as the world’s biggest operator of industrial robots, according to the International Federation of Robotics. In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his country will be the biggest market for robots and called for a robot revolution.
China is preparing its younger generation to get on the AI bandwagon. According to China Daily Asia, Lego says that more than 20,000 schools are using their robotics. That same article reports that since 2003, the national educational authority in China includes artificial intelligence introduction and basic robot design as part of standard optional classes for middle schools. These educational developments all imply that the benefits of AI will be many, an implication apparently not lost on Chinese consumers.
Confirming the likely efficacy of China’s approach, our research found a link between knowing more about AI and AI acceptance. To promote understanding of AI, marketers will need to creatively engage consumer segments not only about AI benefits but also about some of the generally held negatives. The vast majority (82%) of those surveyed, for example, expect AI to cause jobs to be lost ... a fact that given its potential adverse impact upon economies cannot be ignored. Even if the general public is favorably disposed to AI, there are issues, such as job replacement and retraining, that need to be overcome. Marketers will have to work smart to over-communicate the upsides of AI.
Working closely with the media to overcome these challenges should be one of the first initiatives in the AI marketing communications playbook. Media already appears to be a major influencer regarding AI issues. A large 80% of global consumers say that some form of media – a mix primarily of Internet, social media, TV, movies and the news – is their AI go-to-source for information. A quick Google search shows that mentions of “artificial intelligence” + advantage (4,950,000) far outnumber “artificial intelligence” + disadvantage (443,000). Media seems to be the way to go for marketers interested in further educating the public about how AI's merits outweigh its negatives. As our research shows, most consumers should be receptive to such an approach even if luminaries such as Hawking and Musk are not entirely there.