Artificial Intelligence: A Snapshot into the Future

The concept of “artificial intelligence” (AI) was once relegated to science fiction, such as the story “I, Robot” that depicts a society served by intelligent robotic servants that threaten to overthrow humanity.  The humanoid robot “Sophia” introduced by Hanson Robotics in 2016 is the first human-like robot that can express feelings and reveal a sense of humor.  AI is increasingly at the heart of a debate of how much human activity will be replaced or augmented for the better.  For example, Cisco recently introduced a tool with the ability to transcribe audio in real time through a series of algorithms, increasing productivity (fewer editors) but also saving editors from a tedious transcription process.  As AI development marches forward, how ready are workers and society?

As part of Rockbridge’s annual National Technology Readiness Survey, we gauged consumer attitudes toward AI and its developments. Currently, only a quarter (23%) of working U.S. adults feel that AI is important for performing their job. The percentage is slightly higher when comparing those employed by a large business (27%) with those employed in a small business (18%).

The public is divided evenly on whether AI will be a positive or negative development on the future of work, and many cannot speculate on the future (see figure below). U.S. adults under 30 are more enthusiastic about the future AI – 43% of younger adults believe new developments in AI will have a significant positive impact compared to just 25% of those 40 years and older.

When asked their feelings, the public is generally more “hopeful” (59%) than “fearful” (41%) of AI technological advancements. The majority of U.S. working adults (62%) feel their job is not likely to be affected by any AI developments, while few (6%) believe their job is at risk of being replaced by these technologies within the next 5 years.

Technology influences the kinds of work we do, with industrial robots and machines replacing physical work.  Thus, it is not surprising that over half of U.S. workers (57%) performed more “thinking” tasks at their job compared to five years ago, compared to those conducting more “mechanical” (29%) and “feeling” (15%) tasks. “Thinking” tasks are data-driven, technical, analytical, and decision making in nature.  When asked directly about where AI specifically has the biggest impact on their jobs in the past 5 years, nearly half of U.S. adults (47%) have seen the biggest impact from “thinking AI,” compared to 43% “mechanical AI” and 10% “feeling AI”. AI promises to change the types of activities and skills most important to jobs in the future.  According to researchers Ming-Hui Huang at the National Taiwan University and Roland Rust at the University of Maryland, emphasis is likely to shift towards a “feeling economy” where emotional skills become more important than ever before.  For example, a CPA may spend less time processing financial statements and tax returns, but more time interacting with and advising customers.

While AI developments can aid work performance and productivity it also comes with a bit of controversy. Ultimately, it is up to us, the society, to use these technologies to our benefit and take advantage of these advancements that only seemed to be possible in science fiction.

About the Study: The National Technology Readiness Survey is conducted by Rockbridge Associates, Inc. and A. Parasuraman, and has tracked technology and e-commerce trends since 1999.  The survey is co-sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Service at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.  The most recent wave was conducted in May 2019 and is based on an online survey of 1083 U.S. adults sampled at random from a consumer research panel. Results are weighted to match census characteristics.

Written by: Alonso Espino, Research Manager