Artificial intelligence (AI) permeates every aspect of modern life, with companies deploying it to increase efficiency, personalize services and improve the user experience. Companies perceive the use of AI as beneficial, but what do everyday people who are impacted by the technology think? The National Technology Readiness Survey has tracked opinions on the topic since 2018 and reveals some interesting shifts in opinions. As we discuss, there is a rising optimism about AI, particularly for consumers. At the same time, there is evidence of a surge of AI in the workplace that is having a surprisingly widespread impact.
AI has gained increasing acceptance over the past few years. In 2018, the public was evenly divided in whether they were more “fearful” or “hopeful” about AI, but by 2021, the positive views outnumbered the negative by almost two-to-one. Younger adults (age 18 to 34) are the most positive (80% hopeful).
AI affects people in two ways – as consumers and as workers – and some may feel the technology is a positive in one area but negative in the other. In our most recent survey wave, 37% of the public felt that AI makes products and services “more desirable” by making them more responsive to consumer needs, while 25% felt it made them “less desirable” by creating privacy and security issues. Younger consumers (under age 35) are much more positive than their seniors. Since 2019, positive opinions have increased significantly while the share of the population that is skeptical has remained constant.
When we recently asked about the impact on jobs, 33% of the public thought AI will augment humans in jobs, creating new job opportunities. Positive views exceeded negative views, with 27% feeling AI will replace humans, exacerbating unemployment. This view has changed since 2018, when the negative views exceeded the positive. People under age 35 hold the most positive outlook on the workforce impact and are also more certain in their views (i.e., fewer indicating it is “impossible to say”).
When we ask workers directly about the impact of AI, we find there is a recent and substantial impact on their jobs. In 2019, only 24% of workers agreed with the statement “Artificial Intelligence is important for performing my job.” However, this rose to 32% in 2020 and again to 45% in 2021. This nearly doubling of impact in two years means that AI is affecting a wide range of workers. AI is not just affecting the lives of accountants, medical professionals and airline pilots, but also those who work in factories and warehouses and drive trucks.
The perceived impact of AI is higher among workers who are younger, male and have college degrees. Yet, even a third of workers with a high school degree or less feel AI affects their jobs, showing the widespread impact of the technology. There is also evidence that AI is enriching jobs – workers who agree that AI is having an impact have higher job satisfaction (75%) than those who disagree (49%).
Workers hold mixed views on the future impact of AI on their jobs. Half (52%) believe that AI will not affect their jobs. About of quarter of workers feel their job is at risk of being replaced by AI, either in the next 5 years (13%) or in the longer run after 5 years (15%). A fifth (20%) believe that their jobs will be complemented by AI and made more secure. Younger workers and males are more likely to perceive a short or long-term risk to their jobs. The perception that AI would have no impact has dropped slightly since 2019, from 62% to 52%.
AI is clearly having an impact on our lives as consumers and workers. The public can only speculate on the future impact of AI, but when we ask about how AI affects jobs today, there is clear evidence that big changes are occurring. Many pundits have decried the danger of AI displacing workers, particularly those with fewer skills. We are more hopeful and predict that AI will create jobs by increasing demand for products and services that cost less and can better meet buyer needs, while making work more rewarding and easing labor shortages.
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About the Study: The National Technology Readiness Survey has tracked consumer trends since 1999. The 2021 Study is based on a representative online sample of 1,022 consumers and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The study is co-sponsored by Rockbridge Associates, Inc. and the Center for Excellence in Service, Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Charles Colby, Founder and Chief Methodologist