Australians don’t trust AI and see limited benefits in the application of AI tools in the workplace, a panel at the recent JANA conference found
There is an artificial intelligence (AI) revolution going on and Australia wants no part of it.
When chatGPT launched in November of 2022, nobody expected that the take up would be so rapid that only two months later it already reached 100 million active monthly users. In contrast, it took Facebook four years and six months to reach 100 million users, while it took the internet seven years to get to this point.
But whereas many countries around the world have enthusiastically embraced chatGPT, panelists in a session on AI at the JANA Annual Conference 2023 last week said Australians were found to have little trust in AI and scored lowest on the perceived benefits of AI tools.
“Australia doesn’t really know what to do with it,” Michael Kollo, Chief Executive Officer of Evolved Reasoning, said. “We don’t have a good narrative, we don’t have a good story and we don’t really trust it at this point.”
Kollo made reference to a survey by KPMG and the University of Queensland, published earlier this year, which interviewed a cross section of the population of 17 countries on their attitudes towards AI.
Australia scored last in their response to a question about the perceived benefit of a range of AI applications and only did marginally better on the question of trust in AI applications.
How do we get Australia up that curve to actually understand it and think about a world filled with AI as a positive world, rather than one filled with uncertainty, unemployment, and robots walking down the beach? - Michael Kollo
A similar report from Ipsos, also published this year, asked if respondents agreed with the statement: “Products and services using artificial intelligence make me nervous”, and found 69 per cent of Australians either agree somewhat or very much with the statement.
This was the highest percentage out of all 31 countries surveyed.
“If the world is filled with more data, more technology, more AI, however it might over-promise or under-deliver, … we certainly see that there’s more of this stuff in the pipeline,” Kollo said.
“They’re going to get better systems, they’re going to be able to do more things for our industry and our country. [But] the answer is: Australia is not really interested.
“How do we get Australia up that curve to actually understand it and think about a world filled with AI as a positive world, rather than one filled with uncertainty, unemployment, and robots walking down the beach?” Kollo asked.
AI and Sustainability
Fellow panel member at the JANA conference Jessica Cairns, Head of ESG & Sustainability at Alphinity Investment Management, has been working on a research report that looks into environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) issues of AI, in partnership with CSIRO and its Data61 team.
They have been speaking with companies in 30 companies to understand how these businesses are implementing AI tools and the ESG challenges it presents. Cairns also found that Australia lagged most other countries in their attitudes towards and adoption of AI in the workplace.
“There is a stark difference between the uptake of AI for global businesses and Australian peers,” Cairns said at the JANA conference. “There’s not a lot of awareness of the potential kind of benefits of AI.
“There’s not a lot of understanding of how AI can be used in the business. And there’s quite a bit of mistrust for employees on whether it’s actually going to be helpful for their jobs, maybe could cause them to lose their jobs, or may introduce some kind of errors and issues that they don’t understand”.
On issues of the responsible use of AI, Australian businesses are even further behind.
We've spoken to a couple of Japanese and European companies, most of those have external-facing, responsible AI frameworks or responsible AI policies, because they've been on the journey for quite some time. Australian businesses, I would say 50 per cent, don't have anything internal, let alone external - Jessica Cairns
“We’ve spoken to a couple of Japanese and European companies, most of those have external-facing, responsible AI frameworks or responsible AI policies, because they’ve been on the journey for quite some time,” she said.
“Australian businesses, I would say 50 per cent, don’t have anything internal, let alone external,” she said.
Speaking to the Australian banks in particular, Cairns found that there was a level of caution in the take up of AI, particularly around the use of historical data and any potential biases that these systems might infer from it.
“At the moment, they really aren’t doing anything that’s going to touch a customer. There is a concern that if you are using it to screen customers, potentially the data is not doing what you intend or it is going to have bias.
“There are really serious social licence risks for these organisations,” she said.
The panelists wondered whether the lack of interest in AI in Australia could partly be explained by the makeup of the domestic economy. Australia has relatively few established technology businesses and is skewed more towards old economy companies, including mining and resources.
In contrast, countries that tend to show high levels of trust in AI and the benefits of these tools in the surveys are China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Singapore. Countries that rely more on technological innovation for economic growth.
“We spoke to a Latin American e-commerce business, and they really use AI across nearly every single part of their business, and they’ve been doing that for 15 years. So I think it’s maybe just there was an earlier awareness globally of the potential benefits,” Cairns said.
“As for Australia, whether it’s because of the lack of technology presence as well in our large listed companies…”
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