Over the last 12 months, internet-enabled technologies have evolved and been adopted at an accelerated pace. Artificial intelligence (AI) has entered the mainstream, blockchain continues to build momentum, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are used for social and professional purposes (e.g. entertainment and virtual meetings) and large businesses are using robotics to automate operations.
Accordingly, there’s value in understanding Australians’ knowledge, perceptions and comfort using emerging technologies through auDA’s third annual Digital Lives of Australians Report.
auDA’s 2023 Digital Lives of Australians report focuses on Australian consumer and small business readiness for AI, robotics, augmented and virtual reality, and blockchain.
To launch the report, we hosted a virtual panel discussion with industry experts Keith McGowan, Director, SEC Newgate Research, our research partner; Chandni Gupta, Deputy CEO and Digital Policy Director, Consumer Policy Research Centre; and Johanna Weaver, Director, Australian National University’s Tech Policy Design Centre.
Here are our top takeaways from the discussion.
1. Despite awareness, in-depth knowledge of emerging technologies is limited
Our Digital Lives of Australians research found many Australian consumers and small businesses have heard of the four emerging technologies, yet the majority of respondents have a relatively low level of knowledge about them.
AI is the most well-known of the four technologies with 63 per cent of consumers and 80 per cent of small businesses knowing at least a little about it. However, at present only six per cent of consumers and 12 per cent of small businesses would be confident explaining AI to others.
While AI has made a splash in mainstream media in the past 12 months, only 25 per cent of consumers and 40 per cent of small businesses were able to name a single AI platform unprompted. When prompted with a list of AI applications, awareness rose to 79 per cent and 87 per cent respectively. This indicates many Australians lack knowledge about how AI underpins activities they are already carrying out in their day-to-day lives.
“AI is used in so much now, especially automated decision making but we have very little visibility of when it's used, how it's used and what the impact is.” Chandni Gupta
2. Higher knowledge informs greater appreciation of potential benefits
The research found that few consumers and small businesses recognise the potential value of activities enabled by emerging technologies. This led our panellists to question whether there is currently a compelling need for applications powered by emerging tech amongst those groups.
However, the research also found those with higher knowledge are more likely to recognise potential positive economic and social outcomes associated with the technologies. Nearly three quarters of consumers and small businesses with a higher knowledge of robotics believe it will free up time to spend on other priorities. Less than half of those with less knowledge agree.
Similarly, 75 per cent of consumers with higher knowledge agree that virtual and augmented reality can enable greater opportunities for social interaction, especially for those who are isolated, whilst only 42 per cent of those with less knowledge agree.
This suggests that education and support for Australians to gain a deeper understanding of emerging technologies may lead to greater take-up.
“Why is knowledge important? Our analysis shows that those with greater knowledge are far more likely to recognise the potential of these technologies to lead to positive outcomes.” Keith McGowan
3. Accessibility and affordability to protect against a digital divide
Small businesses appear hesitant to embrace emerging technologies at scale. Cost and availability are key barriers. Meanwhile, large businesses are already embedding activities that use emerging tech in their operations, thereby benefitting from efficiency and productivity gains.
As Johanna explained, this is not surprising. In the story of innovation, large businesses come before small businesses in many instances. Getting the regulatory settings right is key to ensure small businesses can take advantage of these new technologies.
“The key will be imposing the burden on the people that are making the technology to make it with privacy, with security, with these protections built in so that onus is not on small businesses –so small businesses can implement the technology and access the productivity gains.” Johanna Weaver
“That fear of being left behind is real and I’d say probably more pronounced among the small business sample than our consumer sample.” Keith McGowan
4. Demand for safeguards
Australian consumers and small businesses recognise a need for regulatory safeguards to protect against potential risks associated with emerging technologies. This was particularly evident amongst consumers and small businesses with higher knowledge of emerging technologies.
For example, more than 75 per cent of consumers and small businesses with higher knowledge of AI say they would feel more comfortable if there were stronger regulatory safeguards around it, compared to only 45 per cent of consumers and 54 per cent of small businesses with lower knowledge.
Consumers and small businesses also hold strong expectations that businesses wishing to use AI applications do so responsibly and are transparent about their use. Almost 80 per cent of small businesses and consumers think it’s very or extremely important for businesses using AI to:
- Have appropriate privacy protections in place
- Have appropriate measures to ensure the ethical use of AI in place
- Ensure outputs from AI apps or tools have been fact checked and are accurate.
“What the research finds is that there are high expectations that organisations that choose to use AI in their operations will employ a range of self-regulation controls.” Keith McGowan
5. Good regulation – an enabler for innovation
According to our panel, good regulatory design should encourage innovation, whilst protecting consumers. Johanna predicted that businesses producing new technological products won’t be considered innovative if they fail to implement security and privacy protections as part of their product design.
Although it holds vital importance, the panel agreed regulation shouldn’t be limited to consumer protection. Rather, regulation should also help facilitate the take-up and positive impacts of these technologies to consumers and small businesses that are ready to embrace them.
Regulation should also be human centric. As Chandni pointed out, “it’s humans creating the tech” not the other way around. She argued for economy-wide reforms that consider the human side and avoids a piecemeal approach that seeks to regulate a specific application.
“If we’re designing regulations well, we will be both innovating and safeguarding – not choosing one or the other.” Johanna Weaver
“It's really important we ensure there is space for all Australians to enjoy the benefits of emerging tech but before we do that, we'll need to enhance the protections. We've got a real opportunity now … to set the guardrails in place so consumers can be confident they're using systems that have been designed with them in mind.” Chandni Gupta
auDA’s Digital Lives of Australians research provides necessary insight to aid governments, business, industry and the education sector to tackle contemporary challenges and support Australians to continue to access value from the internet and internet enabled technologies. To learn more watch the webinar and read the Digital Lives of Australians 2023: Readiness for emerging technologies report.