Many businesses are now embracing automation and artificial intelligence, but the benefits of these technologies are getting lost on many customers and staff.
The research, conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK, found that less than half of Australians view automation and artificial intelligence (AI) as being “probably a good thing” (48 per cent and 46 per cent, respectively).
Of those that do, the main benefits were identified as increased efficiencies (47 per cent), less repetitiveness (46 per cent) and freeing up people’s time (35 per cent).
Surprisingly, it was not just younger adults who are more receptive to these technologies and more positive about their impacts: Baby Boomers (those aged 55 to 64 years), combined with Generation Z (those aged 18 to 24) were more receptive than any other age groups.
Attitudes towards AI and automation were also split by gender, with males much more accepting of the technologies and the belief they deliver greater free time for individuals as well as broader efficiencies for the overall economy than females.
According to the research, a major barrier to even greater uptake of these technologies in business is simply education: people are aware that the technologies exist, but they know little about how they work and what they can be used for. And it is this lack of awareness that is driving a reluctance to accept them.
While 93 per cent of those polled had heard of both AI and automation, three in 10 said they are not welcoming of AI into the workplace.
In fact, a quarter of respondents (26 per cent) believe that AI will actually do more harm than good and can’t understand the hype about it. That was more than double the 11 per cent who said they love it and think it should be embraced as much as possible.
Job security fears drive concerns about tech
Aside from education, the research found that fears around job security are a major factor in distrust or apprehension of automation and AI.
Despite being among the greatest believers in these technologies, members of Generation Z are also most concerned about their impacts on the availability of future employment opportunities.
That was despite just 6 per cent of respondents having been made redundant or forced to change jobs as a direct result of either AI or automation.
These fears are seeing many people turning to training and education, with 41 per cent believing they will need to learn new skills as a direct result of technological advancements.
Commenting on the findings, Inna Wahlberg, general manager at payroll software provider Ascender Asia Services, said that “it’s understandable employees are nervous about advancements when it comes to AI”.
“The technology will introduce incredible technical efficiency and get smarter over time, with many suggesting it will replace humans,” Ms Wahlberg told My Business.
“However, it could not possibly replace humans completely. For example, while AI may give you the data and analytics to justify a pay increase, would you want to negotiate salary with a robot? When employees have sensitive inquiries, such as queries around payroll, they want to talk to a real person. We are emotional beings and require support from other humans. No matter how sophisticated a chatbot is, we will never truly relate to them.”
According to Ms Wahlberg, businesses looking to embrace AI and automation need to understand their core function, which is to “make independent decisions to achieve a goal without continued human input”.
“This will put them in a good position to use AI software (when it does become available) to further streamline mundane tasks, and to ensure problems within the organisation that will always require a human touch are identified as soon as possible,” the GM said.
Ms Wahlberg agreed that education about the technologies, as well as their benefits and limitations, is the key to driving uptake and usage.
“It is a case of being informed but not alarmed. Businesses will inevitably become more automated and AI will enhance the technological capabilities of software. But it is still a long way off from replacing humans,” the GM said.
“For managers and businesses looking to take advantage of AI, it is crucial to build it up gradually. That means learning what tasks AI could help us to achieve in the future and understanding where we can add further value to the business.”
The SEEK-Nature research was conducted by interviewing 400 Australian adults aged 18 to 64 currently in the workforce, whether employed or looking for work.
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