McIntire’s Center for Business Analytics and Ipsos Find Americans Warming to Automation

September 18, 2018
Google assistant on a desk

Automation, and its increasing presence, may have its detractors, but according to an ongoing study by the McIntire School of Commerce’s Center for Business Analytics (CBA) and market research company Ipsos Public Affairs, Americans are becoming more optimistic about its use.

Building on a survey conducted during summer 2017 that probed consumer and workplace perspectives of automation that ranged from online shopping to large-scale job loss, the CBA/Ipsos 2018 survey results show that Americans have more positive feelings about the subject than they did last year.

Why have we warmed up to automation so much in such a short span of time? Ipsos Public Affairs President Cliff Young says it might be linked to the adoption of Google’s Assistant app, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and other similar products.

“These affordable, accessible, and easy-to-use devices allow consumers to familiarize themselves with cutting-edge automation technology in a very personal way. Back when the first wave of the survey was conducted, U.S. household penetration was at 8%. By only eight months later, it more than doubled to 20%.”

Another major factor driving more upbeat sentiment toward automation from the 3,016 U.S. adults polled is—perhaps surprisingly—linked to senior populations, who have taken a big step forward in embracing the technology over the course of the last 12 months. “Among all age groups, Americans aged 65 and older show the most change in their views toward automation in the course of one year, all pointing to less apprehension and more excitement,” the report states.

While those under 35 hold the least pessimistic attitudes about nearly every aspect of automation compared with the total population by an average of five percentage points, those 65 and older are more likely than people between the ages of 35 and 64 to view automation as creating more benefits. These positive attributes include making life easier and more interesting and making products and services, better, more accessible, and easier to use.

A final key change causing the overall optimistic sentiment originates with the workforce: Those surveyed who are currently employed are less worried about automation affecting their jobs than they were a year ago. Though a possibility for the change may lie in a low unemployment rate, the results indicate that automation affects each job sector’s attitudes differently. Yet employed Americans across the board professed less anxiety about job loss (down nine points to 26%) due to growing daily integration of the technology at their place of business.

McIntire Murray Research Professor and CBA Director Ahmed Abbasi says that despite the upswing in positive feelings about automation, organizations would still be well-served to plan for ongoing transformation by prioritizing the preparation and support of their employees.

“While the results suggest a relatively more optimistic workplace outlook towards automation, the findings underscore the need for a humanistic perspective that encompasses change management initiatives to alleviate anxiety and negative sentiments,” he explains.

The study, first presented at last year’s CBA Business Analytics Colloquium at the McIntire School, reveals that, between 2017 and 2018, the number of employed Americans who expect their jobs to be done by machines in 20 years and the number of employed Americans who feel it has made the workplace a less friendly environment have both decreased (down eight points to 32% and down seven points to 48%, respectively). The report also notes, “In parallel, the percentage of those who say it’s made their job easier went up four points to 53% and those who say it’s made it more interesting went up three points to 40%.”