For those working with AI, new tech inspires both fear and optimism

28 June 2018 4 min. read

A new report from BCG GAMMA and Ipsos finds that people working in firms using artificial intelligence are both more enthusiastic about its potential benefits, and more fearful of its prospective negative impacts. While more positive about AI’s impact on their well-being at work and professional development, AI ‘users’ are also more fearful about AI leading to job losses and more surveillance.

Artificial intelligence is poised to change the shape of the world, as technological revolution after revolution distances modern society from the all-too-quaint past of the 1990s – pre-(widespread) internet, pre-smartphone, pre-automation, pre-AI. In ten years, a worker will likely hop into an automated car that takes her to a white collar job where a robot performs almost half of the work she does today, ostensibly freeing up time to do more creative and ‘human’ activities.

At the end of the day, she’ll tell her AI assistant to order her some food, and an automated drone will have delivered dinner by the time her robot car has driven her home. All of these things were possible even last year. From 1997 to 2017, OK Computer has been replaced with ‘OK, Google.’ The anxiety surrounding technology’s effects on humanity, however, remains.

McKinsey & Company gives the more optimistic portrayal of our robotic future, wherein only 5% of jobs are fully automatable with current technology – though 30% of tasks done by over half of occupations can be automated. Rival strategy firm Bain & Company, on the other hand, gives a more sobering projection. The firm reports that automation has the potential to eliminate a quarter of US jobs by 2030, the equivalent of 30-40 million jobs.

Now, a new survey from Ipsos and the AI and analytics arm of The Boston Consulting Group – BCG GAMMA – finds that those already working with AI are both more optimistic about AI’s benefits while also being more fearful of its risks (job security, privacy, economic inequality) than non-users. The study surveyed more than 7,000 people across Canada, the US, France, Germany, Spain, the UK, and China.

The survey found that China has the current highest rate of AI adoption in the workplace. 31% of survey respondents in China said that they already work in an organizations that uses AI, followed by North America (26% in Canada; 24% in the US), and then Europe (20% in the UK; 18% in Spain, 16% in France; 15% in Germany).

Meanwhile, 25% of workers in manufacturing said AI is deployed at their firms, with 20% in construction, 19% in retail, and 18% in services. The average AI deployment across the public sector stood at 25%, with 20% in the private sector.AI users more fearful about negative impacts of AIThe majority of employees already working with AI expect positive implications for themselves and their organizations. In workplaces using AI tools, more than two-thirds said that they have had a positive impact on their efficiency, with 75% citing improvements to their effectiveness and results. Meanwhile, 69% said AI had a positive impact on their well-being at work.

Those that have worked with AI are also enthusiastic about its potential impact over the next five years. More than 80% believe that it will have a positive impact on their firms, including growth and work structure. Over three-quarters said that AI would improve their level of well-being at work and their professional development.

BCG finds that non-users are more hesitant about the benefits of AI. For example, 65% of non-users expect AI to improve their well-being at work, and 60% say that it will improve their professional development. Overall, non-users’ enthusiasm is about 10-15 points lower in most categories compared to AI users. Likewise, countries that were less advanced in AI terms were more hesitant about AI benefits (Europe), while those further along the AI path (China, Canada, US) were more positive.AI users more positive about AI benefits over next five yearsThose working with AI were, however, also more fearful of the negative impacts of AI than nonusers. 82% were fearful AI will result in more control and surveillance, while 76% said that AI would lead to job losses due to reduced workload. 71% said AI had the potential to dehumanize work, resulting in less social cohesion, while the same proportion foresee AI-related ethical problems with regard to personal data protection. The concerns of nonusers were about 10 points lower across the categories.

BCG’s survey also found that only 40% of employees who work in firms utilizing AI had had discussions with managers about their firms’ AI development and transformation, with an even lower 32% rate from nonusers.

BCG GAMMA head Sylvain Duranton advises firms to get prepared for AI adoption sooner rather than later. “Underestimating the size of the AI phenomenon and being unprepared for the digital transformation could leave organizations at great risk. Individuals and managers need to get ready for the AI revolution—which is already here—and to take full advantage of it for survival and growth. Otherwise, they risk being crushed by the power of the wave,” he concluded.