AI has become increasingly prominent in business & society; study uncovers where consumers want it to stay

Franklin, Mass. — April 1, 2021 — At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, many organizations turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to keep operations running smoothly. To understand the immediate effect of this trend on consumer sentiment regarding AI, Interactions—one of the world’s largest standalone AI companies—surveyed 1,000 people on their comfort level with AI in a variety of settings. Today, one year later, the company released new research that examines the extent to which these sentiments have evolved, and takes a closer look at current comfort levels with AI across a variety of everyday applications. 

COVID and the AI Consumer: One Year Later features insights from 1,000 U.S. adult consumers on the AI-powered devices, tools and services  they want to continue using or see expand post-pandemic, from digital customer service channels to autonomous deliveries. The data also establishes consumer comfort with various everyday and business applications for AI, including grocery store robots, facial recognition and disinfectant robots. 

Across the board, the new data shows that the majority of consumers—in many cases, a significant majority—want companies to continue or expand new AI-powered options and practices post-pandemic. The results also show that most people are comfortable with the majority of AI applications in their daily lives today, or those that could soon be available—like personalized recommendations from Netflix, smart home devices and grocery store robots. However, there are exceptions, too; most respondents, for example, are still uncomfortable with the idea of riding in a self-driving car or attending a job interview conducted by a robot.

“AI has the power to be the most transformative technology of our time. But to really experience its benefits, we need consumer buy in; people need to feel comfortable with the technology before it can really flourish,” says Jim Freeze, CMO at Interactions. “Last year, we published research showing how the early days of COVID-19 changed consumer sentiment regarding AI. Today, we’re pleased to expand on those findings with new data that not only benchmarks consumer comfort with AI across a variety of applications, but also sheds light on how we can maximize the positive impact of the technology post-pandemic.” 

Key findings by category are broken down below.

AI in Business
When COVID-19 hit in full force, businesses from contact centers to grocery stores turned to AI to keep operations running smoothly. Today, most consumers are comfortable with AI playing a supporting role in business. 

  • Most consumers (65 percent) are comfortable speaking with an AI-powered customer service solution, provided they can speak normally and get their problem resolved quickly. The vast majority of respondents (82 percent) want companies to maintain or expand AI-powered customer service solutions and other digital channels post-pandemic.
  • Two thirds (66 percent) of respondents are comfortable seeing a robot at the grocery store for functions like cleaning up spills or restocking shelves. Many (60 percent) also want businesses like grocery stores or restaurants to continue or expand the use of robots and other automation post-pandemic. 
  • A slim majority (53 percent) of respondents are comfortable with the use of facial recognition technology at establishments like retail stores, hospitals and airports.
  • Overwhelmingly, consumers are not ready for job interviews conducted by robots, with 72 percent reporting they would not be comfortable. 

AI in the Home
Generally, consumers are at ease with smart home tech and everyday AI-powered recommendations based on their previous behaviors, but are less comfortable with AI taking action not based on their direct input. 

  • 62 percent of people are comfortable having smart devices—like Alexa, Amazon Echo and Google Home—in their homes.
  • 51 percent of respondents are comfortable with these smart home devices proactively taking safety measures, like locking a door or turning off an oven, without a direct order. A smaller contingent (43 percent) are okay with smart home devices proactively taking non-safety-related measures, like turning on the AC or ordering milk when it’s running low.
  • 63 percent of respondents are comfortable with social media companies like Facebook leveraging AI to identify and moderate violent or other inappropriate content.
  • The majority of consumers (68 percent) are comfortable with companies like Netflix and Spotify using previous activity on their platforms to make recommendations and personalize future experiences. Similarly, 68 percent of respondents are on board with retail companies like Amazon and Walmart using previous purchases to make recommendations and personalize future shopping experiences.
  • However, just 30 percent of people are comfortable with companies serving them advertisements for products or services that they’ve talked about aloud, but never searched for or actively pursued.

AI in Healthcare
Following a transformative year in the medical field, consumers are generally comfortable with AI in more administrative or behind-the-scenes roles, but slightly less comfortable with the idea of robots being actively involved in care. 

  • 74 percent of consumers are comfortable with pharmaceutical companies, like Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson, using AI to develop vaccines more efficiently.
  • A significant majority (76 percent) of respondents are comfortable with their doctor’s office or local hospital using disinfectant robots to create a more sanitary environment. 79 percent of respondents want hospitals to continue or expand this practice post-pandemic. 
  • Half of respondents (50 percent) are comfortable with a robot taking their temperature and other vitals at the doctor’s office or hospital, and 65 percent want hospitals to continue leveraging robots and other AI-powered applications to take vital signs post-pandemic. Similarly, 73 percent of consumers want AI-powered applications for information and advice on medical treatment, like the CDC chatbot, to remain or expand post-pandemic. 
  • However, just 38 percent of consumers would be comfortable with a companion robot visiting their elderly relatives in their hospitals or long term care facilities.

AI on the Road
Many consumers are comfortable with autonomous deliveries, whether by air or by sidewalk, and a significant majority hope these options are continued or expanded post-pandemic; yet still just over a third of people would climb into a self-driving car if it was available to them today. 

  • 59 percent of respondents would have groceries or packages delivered to them by a small, sidewalk-based autonomous vehicle, and 54 percent of consumers would have groceries or packages delivered to them by a drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) if they could. 
  • The majority of consumers (72 percent) want companies, like grocery stores and retailers, to continue or expand testing self-driving deliveries post-pandemic.
  • However, still only 37 percent of respondents would be comfortable riding in a self-driving taxi if they were offered the opportunity today. 

COVID and the AI Consumer: One Year Later was conducted through SurveyMonkey February 18 – March 11, 2021. Data was collected from a pool of 1,000 adult (18+) consumers in the United States. For more information on the survey, including a full breakdown of questions and responses, please reach out to