How comfortable are Canadians with AI?

A study reveals that privacy concerns and unclear value propositions may hold back consumer adoption.
Artificial intelligence

Companies across Canada might be jumping at the opportunity to integrate AI into their products and services, but their customers might not be ready for that new world, a study reveals.

Sklar Wilton and Associates compiled its study based a survey of 1,001 Canadians over the age of 18.

Canadians are the most comfortable using AI for menial tasks like controlling their house temperature (73%) or scheduling appointments (70%). Fewer, but still a majority, are comfortable with AI controlling their utilities and appliances (59%), giving them shopping and eating recommendations (59%) and financial advice (56%). Canadians get less comfortable in areas directly affecting their personal lives and well-being, such as diagnosing medical conditions without doctor involvement (43%) and piloting autonomous vehicles (39%).

The comfort level also varies depending on how involved an AI becomes in a given task. For example, while only 17% said they would let an AI assistant do all of their shopping for them, a greater number were comfortable with having an AI hunt for the best price (28%) or discover new retailers and products (32%).

Canadians also showed a range in their understanding of what AI actually does. Many are very familiar with AI’s ability to recognize speech (72%), faces (58%) and songs (56%). but fewer know about more advanced abilities like detecting medical conditions based on images (44%) or trading stocks (37%). Only 55% of respondents correctly defined AI as a “self-learning algorithms designed to do a specific task,” with 42% identifying it as a “self-aware computer program.”

Respondents were also asked to select words and phrases that describe their reaction to artificial intelligence, and many Canadians seem to be on the fence. Words and phrases best described as “curious” were selected by 71% of respondents, with 47% picking positive descriptions and 40% selecting negative ones.

The biggest concern among Canadians when it comes to AI is privacy, where 75% said they are worried about AI’s impact. Respondents said they didn’t like that current recommendation engines mine their browser histories or collect too much personal information.

It also seemed as though many Canadians didn’t see clear benefits to machine learning. The most useful application of AI, according to 46% of respondents, was being able to receive as fast answer to a question – something they can already get through a quick Google search. Capabilities that have been touted by many companies pursuing AI adoption fell far lower on the list: making better financial choices (34%), managing everyday tasks (32%), simplifying shopping (28%), getting customer service assistance (22%) and arranging travel plans (21%).

The report authors made several suggestions for marketers looking to make customers more comfortable with AI. First, it has to be consumer-driven, with a clear statement of the needs AI will help serve and not simply “upsell” its services or products. Second, companies need to have high ethical standards and prioritize the consumer impact instead of “manipulating” their behaviour if they want to establish long-term trust and engagement. Third, companies need to be transparent about how they use AI if they want consumers’ concerns about privacy to be addressed.