Global Consumers are Seven Times More Likely to See a Positive than Negative Impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on Society and Their Personal Lives

Wednesday 19 October, 2016

NEW YORK According to a new survey released today by global communications and engagement firm Weber Shandwick, consumers around the globe are more likely to see artificial intelligence’s (AI) impact on society as positive than negative (45 vs. 7 per cent, respectively). When it comes to their personal lives, consumers are even more likely to think it will have a positive than negative impact (52 per cent vs. 7 per cent, respectively). AI-Ready or Not: Artificial Intelligence Here We Come! was conducted with KRC Research among consumers in five global markets and supplemented with interviews with CMOs, those responsible for marketing and branding in their organisations.

“Superficial intelligence” best describes consumers’ understanding of AI. While two-thirds (66 per cent) of those surveyed say that they know a lot (18 per cent) or a little (48 per cent) about AI, one-third (34 per cent) admit knowing nothing. The most common word association with AI is “robots,” as mentioned by 22 per cent of consumers unprompted.

“For those of us in the marketing and communications industry working at the intersection of technology and humanity, we know technology disruption brings its challenges but also opportunities to advance change,” said Gail Heimann, President of Weber Shandwick. “We now have a baseline on what the average person and marketer thinks about AI as we start to understand how it impacts the experiences between people, brands and the world around us. There could not be a better time to more clearly define AI and explain its potential.

The Business of AI

AI is rapidly transforming business and marketing processes. Nearly seven in 10 CMOs in our study (68 per cent) report that their company is currently selling, using or planning for business in the AI era, and nearly six in 10 (58 per cent) believe that within the next five years, companies will need to compete in the AI space to succeed. As for their own roles, 55 per cent of CMOs expect AI to have a greater impact on marketing and communications than social media ever had. This is a remarkable statement coming from a profession turned upside down by social media in the past 10 years.


Only eight per cent of global consumers think AI is science fiction and will never materialise. Most (92 per cent) expect AI to arrive eventually – 40 per cent think AI is close to or fully developed now and 52 per cent think it is only in its earliest stages of development. In fact, most consumers seem ready for AI to be a reality. After hearing the potential benefits and concerns associated with AI, one-quarter (26 per cent) would like the development of AI accelerated. Half (51 per cent) would like development to remain at its current pace. Only 23 per cent would like it to slow down or stop altogether. Based upon their perceptions today, consumers seem ready for AI to be a reality.

AI Sidekicks

What would consumers trust AI to do? Two-thirds or more trust AI with handling medication reminders, travel directions, entertainment, targeted news, and manual labor and mechanics. AI is trusted by 50 per cent or more to provide elder care, health advice, financial guidance and social media content creation. And, 40 per cent or more trust AI to provide legal advice, cook, teach, police and drive. Not surprisingly, they do not see AI as having the ability to help erase social inequities.

Media as Explainer-in-Chief

When asked where their overall impression of AI comes from, 80 per cent of global consumers mention some form of media, a mix primarily of internet, social media, TV, movies and the news. Media exposure trumps personal experience as an information source.

In fact, over half of global consumers (59 per cent) said they had seen or read something in the media within the past 30 days about AI or had some personal experience with it. The vast majority of these consumers (82 per cent) report that what they had seen, heard, or experienced was positive.

Trust in AI Comes Down to Experience and Expertise

When it comes to accurate sources of information about AI, global consumers report that the most credible information will come from hands-on experience (46 per cent) and technology experts (46 per cent). Consumers also say they trust academics and experts in specialised fields (39 per cent) and professional product reviews (38 per cent). Respondents in our study gave less weight to friends, family and other personal relationships (28 per cent).

AI Adoption Meets Trepidation

Despite fairly positive perceptions of the impact of AI on their lives personally and on society, nearly two-thirds of global consumers (64 per cent) register concern about the use or adoption of AI, although mostly at a moderate level (49 per cent). When consumers were given a list of potential downsides to AI, criminal behaviour and cyber attacks rise to the top as critical concerns along with job losses. The research also unearthed a deep vein of concern over loss of privacy and government interference with personal information.

When asked directly about potential job losses, the vast majority (82 per cent) of consumers in all markets expect job loss due to AI. Only 18 per cent expect AI to create new jobs.

AI Vanguard to the Rescue

The research identified a small but highly AI-conversant segment of global consumers (18 per cent). These pioneers pave the way for product success or failure. Who are they? Relative to the average consumer, this AI Vanguard skews younger, male, educated, employed, higher income and urban.

These early adopters gravitate to entertainment about AI, notice AI advertising and trust their social networks for AI information. They are more optimistic about the impact of AI on society and themselves. Like the average consumer, the AI Vanguard also has a strong perceptual connection between AI and robots and registers the same concerns about the potential dangers of AI, specifically criminality and job loss. Since the survey found that those who know more about AI are more positive about its societal and personal impact, cultivating the AI Vanguard can help spread good word about the new technology.

Regional Differences

The five regions covered by our consumer survey have some unique characteristics. Below are highlights. Our full report includes more detail.

  • Chinese consumers report having the strongest knowledge of AI and UK consumers report the weakest (31 per cent vs. 10 per cent, respectively, say they know a lot about AI).
  • In Canada, the ability to personally test AI products far surpasses other sources as a trusted means of learning about AI (63 per cent vs. professional product reviews, the second highest rated source, at 49 per cent).
  • U.S. consumers rank providing entertainment and medication reminders at the top of their list of AI’s most trusted tasks (73 per cent for both).
  • A moderate number of Brazilian consumers (61 per cent) say AI’s impact on society will be positive, though they report the greatest concern about AI adoption (79 per cent). The loss of certain abilities or skills is unique to Canadians’ biggest concerns (98 per cent) and people becoming lazy and getting hurt in accidents are unique to Brazilians’ top concerns (93 per cent each).
  • UK consumers are the most likely to agree that AI will lead to job loss (91 per cent), yet they are the least likely to think AI could replace their own job even partially (47 per cent). Perhaps this paradox exists due to their high perception that AI is currently science fiction (21 per cent).

Guiding Principles for AI Adoption and Integration

“For companies to successfully compete in the new age of artificial intelligence, CMOs will be central to bringing consumers up the AI learning curve while at the same time selling in their products and services,” said Patrick Chaupham, Executive Vice President, Creative Technology Strategy, Weber Shandwick. “Consumers may seem ready for AI, but they have concerns, and therefore an artful balancing act of education and promotion will be the CMO’s greatest challenge. Marketers will need to creatively engage consumer segments on understanding AI benefits.”

Weber Shandwick’s report provides 10 guidelines for marketing and communications professionals and their companies to consider when introducing AI into the marketplace and mainstream. Six are listed below. Please see the full report [insert link] for the full list of guidelines and an explanation of each.

  1. Broaden baseline understanding.
  2. Strengthen media relationships.
  3. Find your experts.
  4. Ignore AI fears at your own risk.
  5. Consumer knowledge is the key to success.
  6. Consider responsible AI practices for your industry.

Click here to view the full report.

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About the Research

AI-Ready or Not was commissioned by Weber Shandwick and conducted by KRC Research in June 2016. We surveyed two segments. First, we surveyed 2,100 adult consumers online in the U.S., Canada, UK, China, and Brazil, representing the general population of each market. Second, we surveyed 150 executives by telephone in the U.S., UK and China responsible for the oversight and execution of marketing or branding activities at their organisations. All CMOs were employed by companies with annual revenues of at least $500 million USD or comparable levels in other markets.