From self-checkout to self-driving cars, voice assistants to drone delivery, CivicScience regularly keeps a pulse on how AI is changing the world — and just as importantly, how we as a society feel about that.
When it comes to increasing automation in the marketplace and its impact on jobs, it’s not speculative that AI is the greatest disruptor, and few industries remain unaffected. Some estimates call for 12.5 million job losses due to automation and digital technology in the U.S. by 2030.
Is AI in the workplace fast-tracking us towards a bleak dystopia of mass unemployment? Or, are we headed into a brighter future where robots instead beneficially augment human work?
CivicScience finds that most Americans remain less than optimistic. Results from a recent survey show that a total of 69% of U.S. adults are concerned about AI and technology replacing American jobs. And the level of concern has intensified, with the number of people who feel “very concerned” rising from 24% in late 2019 to 28% today.
There are several factors that correlate to why someone may or may not be concerned about AI and jobs, including current job status, occupation, political stance, tech usage, and age.
People have become more sensitized to the topic as the result of COVID-19, which has only sped up the process of seeking out AI and new technologies to replace human labor. More than half of those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic are highly concerned about AI, which is nearly twice that of those who are still working or working less.
AI and automation systems are poised to impact industries across sectors, including high-paying tech jobs. The data show that for the majority of Americans who earn $150K per year or less, a higher income does not safeguard them against worrying over AI and job loss. Interestingly, neither does political identity. While conservatives tend to feel more strongly concerned about job loss to automation than liberals, at the end of the day, it’s pretty much something both sides can agree on.
Who Isn’t Concerned?
Public perception is undoubtedly impacted by the media, which is rife with dire statistics and doomsday predictions as well as positive-leaning narratives about AI and the future of work. While people of all ages appear to have a healthy level of concern about AI and jobs, the Gen Z generation seems to be the most undecided. They are most likely to feel both “very concerned” and “not at all concerned.” They are 43% more likely than those 55 and older not to care.
Tech Adoption vs. Human Interactions
While some might chalk that up to youth in general, it’s worth pointing out that Gen Z are also the most likely to adopt some of the very technologies that are fueling automation innovation, perhaps leading to a more favorable outlook on AI. That said, looking at some of the most commonly-available automated technologies, we see that adoption is not growing.
Take self-checkout kiosks, where adoption has remained static despite the pandemic. Less than one-third of adults use self-checkout kiosks, while the majority still prefer a cashier.
Similarly, half of U.S. adults still opt to pick up the phone if they need to contact customer service after making a purchase, winning out over sending an email and certainly over using an online chatbot.
Finally, adoption of AI voice assistants has also not progressed since 2019. When crossed with feelings about AI and jobs, it’s clear that those who are at all concerned about job loss are less likely to have used an AI voice assistant or to be interested in trying one.
In fact, across the board, the data show an indirect relationship between concern over AI and automation, and adoption of related consumer technologies. Those worried about AI and automation in the workplace are also less likely to use self-checkout kiosks and chat bots, as well as mobile banking apps and social media.
The picture that emerges is of a society divided over AI in general, where the majority is uncomfortable with substituting tech over human interactions. On the other hand, those who embrace new tech may be more willing to accept the future of robots in the workplace, or at least not lose sleep over it.
However, tech adoption is just one part of the equation. COVID-19’s economic fallout has undoubtedly heightened negative perceptions of AI and job automation disruption. Some jobs lost during the pandemic probably aren’t coming back, leaving affected individuals scrambling to switch careers to those that aren’t as vulnerable.