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UK citizens express anxiety over “black box” technologies

The well-established promise of a digital future for society is welcomed by many, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t accompanied by a certain level of confusion and concern.

While the disruption caused by technological change has revealed new opportunities for UK citizens and companies, it has also exposed the limits of tech knowledge among individuals and organisations, often necessitating what feels like ill-prepared decision-making.

A recent survey by Fujitsu captured public opinion on the importance of digital transformation on the success of future generations. It also tapped business leaders across the UK’s major industries to gain insights on how they view the advantages and challenges of increased digital adoption.

Consumer caution

Citizens recognise technology as the driver behind wider changes happening in UK society. But, according to Fujitsu’s survey of 2,000 consumers and 600 business leaders, the public’s view on those changes is complicated and nuanced: while they value its impact on everyday life, they are also wary of trusting the “black box” technologies that will drive deeper change in future. Indeed, there are signs that the public doesn’t fully understand new technologies and their future role in the UK, including quantum computing (57 per cent) and virtual reality (45 per cent). There are also some technologies that citizens say they will never use. Almost a third say they will never adopt driverless vehicles (31 per cent), drone technology (31 per cent) and cryptocurrencies (30 per cent).

It’s not just the technology itself that is the issue for UK citizens. Because of the rapid pace of change, consumers look to businesses and government for guidance and reassurance, but their trust in such organisations is declining. The majority of UK citizens admit they have less trust in organisations now than they did five years ago (39 per cent) – with 15 per cent saying that they trust organisations a lot less. The majority of citizens believe that central government holds the greatest responsibility (32 per cent) for guiding the country through change.

Business balance

For their part, most leaders in the private and public sectors felt well-prepared for the change that has taken place in the last five years (57 per cent), with solid plans in place for their overarching business strategy, operations and product innovation and development. Perhaps, as a result, the term that most leaders felt summed up the nature of change in the UK was ‘positive progress’ (42 per cent). They see technology as vital to their future success (73 per cent), with 5G holding the greatest potential to accelerate transformation in the years ahead (38 per cent).

That said, businesses aren’t immune from the caution felt by the public, with 58 per cent of leaders stating that consumer nervousness has stopped them from adopting certain technologies – corresponding with the public’s general sense of scepticism about data security and discomfort with technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing. Among the various vertical sectors, manufacturing leaders are most concerned that the level of employee acceptance of change could hinder their success (34 per cent). Within utilities, while 85 per cent of leaders feel positive about the changes ahead, they acknowledge that customer acceptance of any changes could be a key stumbling block in their ability to cope in future.

One thing’s for certain: all business leaders see digital transformation as a genuine business imperative, according to the survey. But despite feeling they were well prepared for the changes of the last five years, positioning for the future isn’t quite so comfortable. Indeed, 44 per cent of leaders fear they will miss out on the benefits of technology innovation because they haven’t planned radically enough for them. According to the results of the survey, it might be time to look more holistically at the technology that will be required to truly transform.

NS Tech and GlobalData are part of the same group