The Last Barrier to Consumer AI Adoption

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Click to learn more about Rachel Roumeliotis.

It’s not uncommon for people to fear what they don’t understand, and this sentiment holds true for consumer attitudes towards artificial intelligence (AI). Whether rooted in fantasy (robots taking over the world) or reality (Google Home listening in on our conversations) there’s a lot of work to be done selling consumers on the idea of AI. Despite this, most people are already using the technology in some capacity, whether in tools at work, fitness trackers, smart home devices, or other applications. 

So, where exactly does the discord between consumer attitudes towards AI and adoption lie and how do we overcome it? A recent O’Reilly survey exploring the disconnect between the consumer understanding of AI and how it’s actually being applied in production sheds light on this. While part one of this series explored AI hype vs. reality and the differing views between AI creators and consumers, part two will examine how consumers grapple with the technology. 

To understand how misunderstandings about AI can hinder adoption, it’s important to first look at how consumers are viewing it. Fortunately, it’s not all apprehension: The research shows that consumers appreciate the success of smart home technology and are watching the development of autonomous vehicles very closely. Interestingly, consumers are more skeptical and less excited about AI at work. While automation took the lead as the most desired AI work application, only 22% of consumers surveyed were in favor. 

While it’s surprising that consumers would put more stock in AI in their homes and behind the wheels of their vehicles than in the office, perhaps the narrative of machines stealing human jobs has struck a chord. There’s great potential for AI tools to increase employee productivity and streamline workflows, freeing workers up for more meaningful, high-value tasks. But these benefits aren’t always communicated effectively beyond the IT department. In order to get consumers to play ball, there has to be more education on how AI can augment, not upstage, users. 

On the flip side, when the immediate value of an application is more obvious, consumers tend to be more receptive to it. For example, the aforementioned 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%). It’s easy to see why there’s less pushback in having the luxuries of a safe home, planned vacation, and help in managing your schedule than it is to get acclimated to a new IT system at work – especially with the belief that one day it might replace you. 

What’s interesting, however, is that the much-revered practical consumer AI applications – smart home devices, security systems, travel recommendations – were not necessarily ones that consumers associated with AI. When asked what came to mind when they thought about AI, the top three responses were virtual assistants, robotics, and self-driving cars. While this highlights the misunderstanding piece of the AI equation, it also drives home the fact that pragmatic uses of the technology are more widely accepted and enjoyed by consumers. This is likely why fraud detection was cited as the most exciting area for AI development among all survey respondents. 

As AI applications continue to grow from tactical to what we once thought of as science fiction just a few years ago, everyone can benefit from its capabilities in some way. While some consumer fears and skepticism around the technology are legitimate, we’ve missed a big opportunity as creators and practitioners to educate them on how widespread and useful AI is and can be in our everyday lives. It’s time to start bringing some of the imagination and excitement of big AI breakthroughs to the AI-enabled tools that can change the way we do our jobs and function in our routines. Only then can we begin to reap all the benefits AI has to offer. 

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