Canadians excited by potential of AI and robotics, finds KPMG

24 June 2019 3 min. read

A recent report from accounting and consulting firm KPMG found that Canadians are optimistic about the potential for advances in AI, robotics, and machine learning to positively impact their lives.

Nearly 7 in 10 (69%) of Canadians said they were excited by the potential of artificial intelligence – which has myriad applications – from personal assistants to driverless cars.

They do, however, believe the advances are still years away, with 47% saying so.

"It is great to see that Canadians believe in and embrace the potential of new technologies but the runway to get there is not nearly as long as Canadians think," Peter Hughes, partner and digital services leader for KPMG, said. "I think the speed of change is happening faster than people realize but the difference is that our definition of 'fast' continues to change."

Fifteen percent of respondents were less enthused, saying they were concerned that “technology is taking over.” Aside from the projected massive job losses as a result of automation, emerging technology threatens to create a world foreign to many people. Change isn’t necessarily good, and some people might prefer simpler lives without being out-and-out luddites.

Canadians excited by potential of AI and robotics, finds KPMG

Without a proper response from policymakers, the coming phase could easily create a techno-dystopia where the wealth of the rarified technological elite grows exponentially, while non-skilled workers see their jobs disappear – as those who design, build, and manage the “technology” see increasing returns and power. “Re-skilling” is a common refrain, but truck drivers don’t necessarily make for good AI programmers. The winners and losers in society could be exponentially magnified.

And the change is coming sooner, and with a more rapid pace, than one might expect. Hughes relates that we are exiting the digital era (mobile, social, cloud, and web) and entering the exponential era of technology, where the magnitude, pace, and diversity of change is unlike anything seen before. It’ll be more world-shaking than the cotton gin was when it was introduced in the late 18th century.

“Look at today's automobiles. A few years ago, even simple things like back up cameras, and safety sensors were rare,” Hughes said. “Not only are these virtually standard now,  the machines are getting smarter with automatic steering to keep you in your lane, self-parking or braking for you in traffic. This is all artificial intelligence that is happening today with significant impact.

“Ultimately, as this evolves we will not only have ‘smarter’ cars but smarter roadways where all the cars on the road talk to each other, the road infrastructure, weather reports, etc.”

The KPMG report found that Canadians are perhaps overly optimistic about how many job losses AI and automation will create. Only 11% said they think new technologies will take their jobs.

A recent report from McKinsey & Company projects that job losses from automation could potentially be 26% of workers in Canada (4.8 million jobs), though the firm estimates 4.3 million new jobs because of automation. What portion of the people who lose their jobs will be the ones getting the new jobs is another question (namely, that of the re-skilled truck driver).  

“While it is difficult to predict the exact impact technology advances will have on any given job, it is clear technology will have an increasing impact on the way people work,” Hughes added. “What we can expect going forward is that technologies like AI, robotics, and machine learning will increasingly displace ‘tasks’ and whole parts of jobs, making some obsolete, while introducing new roles and capabilities not previously imagined.”