Date posted: 28/05/2020 5 min read

Why are Aussies and Kiwis so ho-hum about AI?

A recent report finds just 26% of Australian and New Zealand workers are excited by the possibilities of AI.

In Brief

  • While workers in India and China are excited about automation and AI, those in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) are concerned.
  • 92% of ANZ workers find it hard to keep up with technological changes in the workplace.
  • Workers are also nervous about the security of AI devices.

By Amity Delaney

Automated technologies are rapidly being taken up by enterprises worldwide. But while workers in other countries are on board with the idea of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), Australians and New Zealanders are hesitant.

The recent Oracle and Future Workplace AI@Work Global Study 2019 is based on the results of a survey of 8370 respondents across 10 countries, conducted in July and August 2019. It found just 26% of Australian and New Zealand workers surveyed were excited by the possibilities of AI.

This compared with 60% of workers in India and 56% of workers in China who were excited about AI. But Australians and New Zealanders were still more positive than their counterparts in France and the UK, where only 8% and 20%, respectively, said they were excited about the technology.

Persistent fears about the introduction of AI

There is no doubt AI will continue to be integrated into workplaces and lives. So why do some workers have such negative attitudes towards it?

The survey found that while AI has a huge potential to change businesses for the better, the rapid pace of technological change is placing pressure on workers to keep up. It found that 92% of workers surveyed in Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) find it challenging to keep up with the pace of technological changes in the workplace.

The swift implementation and uptake of AI into workplaces is also creating fear about job losses.

“The apprehension observed in the survey may stem from the fact that an overwhelming majority (82%) of ANZ workers believe an automated solution can do a better job than a human manager for straightforward tasks like managing work schedules and providing unbiased information,” says Rowan Tonkin, senior director, HR transformation at Oracle.

But that’s not the only thing worrying workers. Survey respondents in Australia and New Zealand said concerns about privacy (34%) and security (38%) prevented them from using AI at work.

With significant data breaches being reported in the media, workers are nervous about the security of devices with AI. Optus is facing a class action after the private details of 50,000 of its customers, including home addresses, were published in the White Pages directory last year. And the Australian government is facing scrutiny over privacy issues surrounding its new COVID-19 tracking app.

“While the Oracle AI at Work study shows that ANZ organisations have generally been slower to take up AI than their counterparts in some emerging economies such as China and India, it’s worth noting that we have adopted these technologies faster than many other major economies, including France and Japan,” says Tonkin.

How can businesses help workers be less worried about AI?

Among the workers surveyed in Australia and New Zealand, 57% already use some form of AI at work, including spam filters, rostering tools or chatbots. That compares with 77% of respondents in China, the leading adopter, and just 29% in Japan.

With more than half of Australian and New Zealand respondents already using AI, it shows that these technologies are proving useful in the workplace, despite employees’ apprehension.

But those workers using AI also said they wanted a simplified experience, asking for a better user interface (34%), best practice training (35%) and an experience that is personalised to their behaviour (28%).

“This tells us that businesses must consider how their technology investment will integrate with their existing workforce,” says Tonkin. “It must be something that helps workers do their jobs better and easier, not simply another tool thrust upon them.”

“It must be something that helps workers do their jobs better and easier, not simply another tool thrust upon them.”
Rowan Tonkin, Oracle

When AI is being introduced into a workplace, the benefits of the new technology should be clearly communicated so that workers can see the positive impacts of AI.

“This is especially so when administrative or time-consuming activity is significantly reduced, which enables people to focus on more strategic, value-adding or enjoyable activity in their roles,” says Tonkin.

AI should also be introduced in incremental stages so that workers aren’t faced with a rapid restructuring of the whole business.

“Staged implementation enables workforces to adapt, utilise training and change management support to successful adopt the new way of working,” says Tonkin.

“The reality is that most AI and machine-learning platforms are designed to augment human performance in narrowly defined tasks. In many cases, these tasks might be too administrative, time-consuming or repetitive for humans to volunteer themselves. It’s about task replacement rather than job replacement.”

It’s also worth noting that AI can’t take on every task. Human managers are usually significantly better at understanding feelings, coaching teams and building company culture.

However, in order for Australian and New Zealand businesses to take advantage of the latest advancements in AI, they need to focus on simplifying and securing AI at work to improve worker confidence in the tool – or risk being left behind.

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