Do People Know About the AI Behind Their Devices?

September 18, 2020

Alex Wilman
Research Director

Innovation Insights is a monthly series looking at all things technological innovation. This series is hosted by Northstar Research, a London-based market research agency, and based on several recent surveys conducted in conjunction with Arm (a semi-conductor company valued at £23.4bn). Together, over the next few months, we'll cover topics including:

  • Security – I.e., will security concerns stifle technological and product innovation? Or, will it simply lead to more secure products?
  • Insight-driven innovation – what processes can be used to turn insight into innovation? How can insight into the way youths interact with tech be used to prototype software that empowers them to tackle cyberbullying?

There's been a rise in Artificial Intelligence (AI) in every professional sector. From travel to medicine, agriculture, security, finance, law, to administration – near-on every industry uses AI. This has led to incredible advancements in the way we detect cancer, crop disease, home intruders. And day-to-day, it’s revolutionized the way we drive, date, shop, listen to music, all without us really realizing.

We rely on it to get us to A to B, let it into our homes and give it a name (Siri, Alexa), etc. But how much does the average person know, or even think about, the scope of this technology? Are they aware that they are using it at all?

Three Phases of AI

The evolution of AI can be charted from the mid-2000s and categorized into three distinct classes:

  1. Mid-2000s technology, e.g. online shopping and GPS
  2. Mid-2010s technology, e.g. personal engagement AI-driven technology like voice assistants
  3. “Now” technology, e.g. augmented reality (AR), drones, and smart homes

The tech that was brand new 15 years ago is now mainstream, used by over 50% of the world’s population. In fact, in the age of corona, ordering food and clothes and pretty much everything else we purchase online has become the new norm. We do it without thinking.

As we move into the 2010s, however, you’ll notice a shift towards interactivity. Developers worked hard to create a need for personal engagement between humans and their AI assistants. Siri is often so keen for conversations that he responds even when you aren’t talking to him!

Statistical data analysis suggests that between 30-50% of people use this kind of AI today, and the numbers are highest among the over-45s. Computational photography, facial recognition, and voice assistants are quickly catching on and will soon be just as mainstream as social media, online streaming services, and GPS.

Current trends in AI, including drones, AR and VR (virtual reality), and smart home and wearable technology, still have a little way to go before they can catch up. At the moment, it is only used by a third of people, but consumer insights predict that these numbers will rise as we progress through the 2020s.

Scientists also foresee the emergence of a fourth wave of AI during this time.

The Everyday Impact of AI 

Although the majority of people use some form of AI technology every day, only 37% say it has a noticeable impact on their day-to-day lives. Although a more significant number of people say, they are expecting this to change in the not-so-distant future. In fact, 54% of recipients say they think the impact of AI will become more noticeable within the next 10 years.

That means only 9% of those surveyed believe it will be more than 10 years before AI becomes a driving force in society.

The Transparency of AI

People accept that we live in a technologically focused world. We carry computers around in our pockets, use our faces to open them, and can have the entire internet at our fingers from almost anywhere in the world. It’s a hard fact to deny.

But do they know just how much we rely on the AI behind that technology?

58% of people recognize that AI is essential to the working of voice assistants. 52% can see its functionality, in-home robots and drones. 50% believe it is necessary for facial recognition technology, and 47% say the same about smart home devices.

But some uses of AI are harder to spot. 30% of people think that dating apps do not use any artificial intelligence at all. And 29% said they did not believe social media uses it either.

Is this a reflection of what people think AI should be used for? I.e., providing information, rather than determining what articles we see in our feed and thereby skewing our perception of current events)? Or a sign that some companies are deliberately minimizing the visibility of their AI tech?

Social media platforms are, after all, one of the biggest proponents of AI. They don’t just use it to tailor feeds, suggest friends and apps, hashtags to follow, etc. They're also using it to identify and remove illicit content and fight crimes such as cyberbullying.

There is no denying, then, that it does have its uses – but shouldn’t we all be more aware of what they are?

What’s Next?

Next month’s Innovation Insights article will begin to look at how insights can be used to develop innovative products and services. We will introduce “Jobs to Be Done” and “Design Thinking” as powerful techniques for turning insights into innovation.

You won’t want to miss it!

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