While Tech Fawns Over AI, Consumers Need More Convincing
Silicon Valley is pouring investment into artificial intelligence, but responsible development of these advanced machine learning applications requires weighing the concerns people have about the technology’s impact and who will be most affected.
Interest in AI has never been higher. The idea of artificial intelligence has fascinated people since the 18th century mechanical turk, but this period is different because the technology available to us right now makes advanced machine learning and deep learning models — which we colloquially refer to as AI — not just possible, but mainstream.
Yet conversations and excitement about AI are still largely confined to tech circles. Consumer understanding of the concept is low, while skepticism is sky-high. The only audiences interested in and excited about the prospect of AI applications are those who work in tech. Even the youngest consumers — typically the most tech-forward — are divided, although they tend to have more awareness of AI’s various applications.
Today, AI applications are running in the background of everyday services. In the second quarter of this year, Google stated that its investments in AI technologies were already paying dividends for its search, translation and mapping services. Meanwhile, Meta said AI applications were helping with content recommendations across its platforms. Generative AI models such as DALL·E 2, which creates award-winning art, are enjoying a spotlight moment with users.
But the possibilities are endless, as AI itself will tell you. We asked GPT-3.5, an AI-powered language model from the OpenAI research laboratory, how artificial intelligence will be helpful to consumers, and in our “conversation” the model returned a few paragraphs focused on its marketing and customer service capabilities. It praised AI’s ability to “identify patterns in customer behavior and preferences, detect fraud and security threats, and track and analyze customer data.”
Not everyone has bought into how AI might be helpful. We tested 28 potential applications of AI technology, both current and in development, across eight different themes: generative, emulative, social, entertainment, food and holidays, health, work and government, and physical world. U.S. consumers expressed muted enthusiasm for most applications, but the ones they are most excited about relate to applications in the physical world, such as package delivery drones and food delivery robots that learn and adapt to their environment. AI applications that mimic or emulate people, such as deepfakes, understandably garner the least support.
The degree to which consumers are excited about these applications is one consideration. Another is whether they think each will have a mostly positive or negative impact on society. While many people are skeptical of using or experiencing AI applications themselves, there are a number of areas where they see that AI can help, such as science, health care and government.
That being said, concerns about the potential abuse of AI applications persist, and differ based on peoples’ lived experiences. Overall, U.S. adults tend to be most concerned about the impact of AI applications on jobs — consistent with previous Morning Consult research — as well as data privacy, fake news and the potential to contravene U.S. interests. Racial discrimination in AI applications ranks near the bottom among all U.S. adults but is one of the most important concerns among Black adults (46%) relative to white adults (40%).
While new waves of automation have historically made life easier in many ways, making business more profitable and unlocking products and services that we previously could only imagine, these moments have also come with their own sets of worries about what might change for the worse. Society is now showing similar hesitation when it comes to such advancements, as well as concerns about their economic and social implications.
For brands entering this space, a healthy dose of circumspection about who will be impacted by these changes and how will go a long way toward making sure that the AI applications we adopt are not only helpful, but ethical as well.
Jordan Marlatt is a lead tech analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where he conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises clients on emerging technologies and trends. Jordan previously served as chief of staff to Morning Consult’s president and co-founder, and opened and oversaw Morning Consult’s San Francisco offices, onboarding and consulting for the company’s largest technology clients. He graduated from The George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in international affairs and political science. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].