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People will use artificial intelligence as long as they don’t realise it

Two pieces of research have come across New Statesman Tech’s desk in recent weeks, both coming to the same conclusion and we’d bet that there will be more. People are willing to use artificial intelligence and indeed they do so, but most of them don’t actually realise it’s AI.

The implications for business and government are considerable, and nowhere is this more evident than in cases in which public money is spent on technology. If you’re buying into something as expensive as AI, you need to be able to demonstrate that the investment will pay off.

This is why it’s ironic that, according to Don Schuerman, chief technology officer of Pegasystems, the technology is simultaneously overhyped and understated.

AI facing two ways

New Statesman Tech spoke to him recently and his view was that people resisted the idea of AI in their daily lives but that it was affecting them in ways they didn’t actually realise. “It’s already here in the enterprise and it’s doing a lot today.”

This was clearly true of our own briefing with him. This was done by phone on a conference call, into which we spoke instructions to put us through to the correct conversation. At no stage was there any human intervention, any more than there would be when (for example) an Internet shop presents options for new purchases based on buying histories. This is all AI and it’s stuff that enterprises and public services can be using right now. “Artificial intelligence can enhance consumer interaction with business in a big way.”

It may have some way to go, not because of the quality of the technology but because of individual perceptions. The UK is behind in this respect. According to Pega’s own research, fewer than one in three (28 per cent) of British consumers are comfortable with businesses using AI to engage with them. Meanwhile another survey from suggests that six out of 10 people claim they never use AI at work, while 80 per cent of them own smartphones and are likely to use a number of apps driven by it.

There seems to be an image problem, and it could be that the name itself is the issue. New Statesman Tech is reminded of a session a couple of years ago at which a senior person at a corporate business mentioned that he’d been barred from outsourcing technology support because the term itself was toxic. He’d asked if he could contract it out instead and the answer was “yes, that would be fine”.

Maybe we just need to find another word for AI…