MARKET | Jun 12, 2019

Who’s afraid of Artificial Intelligence?

What is the relationship between consumers and AI? What is it that fascinates (and what frightens) us of the innovation that is transforming our shopping experiences?

Artificial intelligence is a complex and obscure concept for the vast majority of politicians, journalists, entrepreneurs and, above all, citizens and consumers: it is not something tangible or that can be directly experienced. Commercial and even scientific strategies tend to conceal any transparency aspect when designing a point of contact with AI-based systems, as avoiding any awareness of crossing a threshold and that a dialogue, or taking an action in the outside world is manned by non-human agents, is rightly considered an added value”. Alberto Marinelli, full professor at the Department of Communication and Social Research at the Sapienza University of Rome, thus explains the relationship between consumers and Artificial Intelligence, which also emerges from the research: Retail Transformation: the meaning of a sense revolution.

In retail, 68% of users believes that it is useful for AI to react to the emotions of the people with whom it interacts because, where it is true that just over half of consumers is willing to use a virtual shopper, there is the perception that a more pleasant shopping experience is linked to the presence of a natural person, precisely in relation to the perceived inability of Artificial Intelligence to fully understand the needs of the user and to give timely responses to specific requests. This happens to a greater extent (+14%) for generation Z, those with advanced digital skills (+8%) or higher incomes (+7%). Therefore, interest yes, openness too, but there remains a quiet distrust.

Man or machine?

“Fears towards AI – explains Marinelli – re-emerge in that often indistinct and magmatic sphere in which the humanoid dimension of Artificial Intelligence, impersonated and incorporated (including in shared imagery) by automatons and robots, seems willing to replace, even not too transparently, the idea that “one day we will no longer be able to distinguish real people from robots and this terrifies me”, expressed by 42% of respondents, with peaks in people who are older and less competent in relation to digital technologies”.

87% of users believes it is essential to declare the interaction with a possible virtual assistant, while respondents have the idea that human interaction remains the best choice, should it be necessary to ensure a better understanding of customer needs and to make the shopping experience more enjoyable.

If we make another concrete example of AI application, by investigating the issue of substituting human driving with AI, 45% of the interviewed consumers declares anxiety in relation to this evolutionary prospect: 30% hides behind a declaration of unchanged interest in managing driving without assistance; only 25% expresses a feeling of security towards the spread of automated driving systems, with the certainty that it increases safety and reduces accidents. To an even greater extent than in purchasing experiences, polarization in favor in this case is acted out on levels of digital competence (+14), young age (generation Z +14), education levels (+13).

Can ICT companies afford to wait for AI?

The ICT companies interviewed still declare a low interest in AI: 68% of their client companies, in fact, makes a greatly reduced or zero use of Artificial Intelligence and only 36% shows interest in this technology for future investments. As regards the expectations and the strategic implementation decisions over three years that companies address to the various fields of application of AI, the fastest moving segments are those of Language Processing, Intelligent Object and Intelligent Data Processing, Security and Marketing Automation. Investments in Virtual Assistants and Autonomous Robots are projected over a longer period of time.

In comparison with companies still reluctant to embrace AI, consumers are ready to welcome the entry in the picture of Artificial Intelligence. “If it is evident – concludes Marinelli – that confidence in AI for the time being groups a majority of young, educated and already competent citizens in terms of opportunities in the digital world, it is equally clear that all dissemination processes of innovation are based on this type of consumer and that to win over the great (and “dawdling”) majority it will be necessary to invest heavily in the simplicity and naturalness of the interfaces, together with transparency on how to dialogue with automated systems”.