AI

Workers are more optimistic than concerned about AI, survey says

Boston Consulting Group queried nearly 13,000 people.
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3 min read

Despite recent hand-wringing from experts about AI’s potential to wipe out humanity, office workers are more optimistic and curious than worried.

At least that was the conclusion Boston Consulting Group drew from a recent survey in which it asked around 12,900 employees, managers, and leaders about their feelings toward the technology.

About 61% and 52% ranked curiosity and optimism, respectively, among their top five sentiments when it comes to AI, with only 30% listing “concern.” The findings marked a shift from 2018, when only 35% of respondents were optimistic, and 40% were concerned (curiosity remained more or less the same).

“I was a little surprised just by the degree of optimism,” Steve Mills, chief AI ethics officer, managing director, and partner at Boston Consulting Group, told Tech Brew. “It just seems like there’s so much doom-and-gloom conversation. And to be clear, I do believe there are real risks we need to manage…[But] there's much more optimism among workers than I expected in general.”

The survey comes as advances in language-generating AI have businesses scrambling to commercialize the tech, with companies from Wendy’s to WPP jumping on the bandwagon. A little more than a quarter of respondents said they already use generative AI multiple times a week, while 46% said they’ve experimented with generative AI at least once.

The report found that workers who have tried using generative AI tended to be more optimistic and less concerned about it. Mills attributed some of the change between 2018 and now to people getting more hands-on with the latest generation of these tools.

“With the explosion of generative AI, more and more people are having a very intimate connection with AI or use AI in a very frequent way,” Mills said.

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Levels of concern varied across seniority levels; leaders and managers were less concerned than employees (22% and 28% versus 39%, respectively). Similarly, 62% of leaders and 54% of managers were optimistic about the tech, while only 42% of employees were.

That’s not to say that workers aren’t somewhat uneasy with aspects of how their companies are diving into AI. Only 29% of workers said that their companies have enacted “adequate measures to ensure the responsible use of AI,” while 68% of leaders said the same.

Like a good portion of the AI industry itself, 79% of those surveyed think some form of AI-specific regulation is necessary. Discussion around how governments should intervene in AI has picked up in recent months as industry figures have made high-profile calls for more rules around the technology.

Around 36% of respondents also believe that their own jobs are “likely to be eliminated by AI,” and 86% said they would need upskilling to address how their jobs would change as a result of the tech.

Mills said the survey can serve as a reminder to company leaders that employees may not be as jazzed about the technology as those in the C-suite, and rollouts should take that into account.

“The big thing to understand is that your employees may not have the optimism that you have—they are more than likely less optimistic and more concerned, overall,” Mills said. “And I think that has implications for how you think about change management and approaching AI.”

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.