TECH | Dec 4, 2019

Italians and Artificial Intelligence, between fears and a desire for more empathy

The research "Retail Transformation 2.0" by the Digital Transformation Institute and CFMT reports our fears towards AI, but also the growing awareness of its potential.

Empathic Artificial Intelligence, that is, capable of recognizing the emotions of those in front of us and of reacting accordingly. This seems to be what makes people more confident about AI, together with the possibility that its use will make some of the actions of our daily lives less burdensome, safer and cheaper.

The data of the second edition of the “Retail Transformation 2.0” report elaborated by Digital Transformation Institute and CFMT, in collaboration with SWG, show an evident growth (+16%, with an increase from 68% to 80%) compared with 2018, in the need to deal with machines capable of perceiving what we feel. There has also been a significant increase (+10%) compared with the last edition of those who show a preference for robots which clearly have a non-human look (20% of people being interviewed) and that, even in the case of remote assistance, allow them to know whether they are interacting with a machine rather than with a real person (90%).

Artificial Intelligence in daily life

Artificial Intelligence must be recognizable and empathic, useful in everyday life for 63% of respondents (down 7% compared with 2018), able to relieve the user from burdensome activities and complex services such as entering into a contract for a new household utility (24%, +4% compared with 2018), draw up a purchase deed for a house (19%, +6%), drive the car making the city safer (35%, +10%).

AI is losing ground in daily work and activities on which, in the last edition, people placed greater trust, such as issuing judgments and legal sentences and refereeing a football match (-9%), composing music (-6%), introducing potential friends (-5%), but also writing newspaper articles, selecting staff, diagnosing diseases or driving (-4%). On the other hand, the attitude of trust towards robots improves when users are asked to imagine their lives in 10 years’ time: from finding the fastest route in the city, where robots hold their lead over people with 78% (+5), to investing in the stock exchange (43%, +6%), to diagnosing illnesses and refereeing a football game (35%, +6% and +1% respectively), to doing household chores (33%, +5%).

Finally, in a 10-year perspective, the number of undecided people is widening, no longer so convinced that people perform certain tasks better than machines, but still wary of the role of Artificial Intelligence: people who do not know whether machines or humans are better at writing for a newspaper go from 11% to 24%, from 17% to 28% for introducing potential friends, from 13% to 27% in composing music, from 14% to 26% in issuing sentences and judgments, from 15% to 26% in choosing staff in a company.

Respondents have no doubts as to who should and can manage care activities for children, the elderly and pets: although more empathetic, robots will never be able to replace humans.

AI and the purchasing experience

Artificial Intelligence is an efficient shopping companion, mainly for clothes and accessories, telephone and electrical services and technology (35%). The food sector is growing compared with 2018 (+10%), while there is a wariness towards more significant financial investments and acquisitions, such as cars and real estate. In particular, the insurance policy sector loses 5%: the presence of a human being at the purchase stage is still considered more important.

Those in favor of virtual assistants with AI, who can give advice when shopping online or in the shop, are unchanged at about half (53%), as in 2018. Situations in which one prefers a car instead of a human to avoid embarrassing situations, or to have a personalized discount are also unchanged. Interaction with people is preferred in the phase of understanding needs (47% man, 17% machine, 36% indifferent) and to make the shopping experience more enjoyable (36% man, 20% machine, 44% indifferent). Compared with 2018, on the other hand, there has been a significant increase in confidence in machines (+8%), in the protection of privacy and in the management of personal data.

The data of the Digital Transformation Institute survey, like last year, show the persistence of fears on the part of Italians, but also a greater awareness of the power and advantages of using this technology, which would ensure, according to general sentiments, more security in some complex actions, more protection for our data and the possibility of delegating some burdensome daily life activities.

Stefania Farsagli