Over half of us believe that technology can be used to solve major problems. A positive percentage perhaps. But then again, 43% of us would buy a car in the Metaverse, so…
Just two of the conclusions from Bosch’s annual Tech Compass report, which launched at the CES technology show in Las Vegas yesterday. The global research report covers the attitudes of people in seven countries - Brazil, China, Germany, France, India, UK and US - towards technology, and highlights public perceptions on climate technology, sustainability, and energy.
That international spread makes for interesting reading in terms of different attitudes at national level. For example, while three-quarters of respondents globally agree that technology makes the world a better place, the French give the idea a gallic shrug, with only 52% of respondents there agreeing. In contrast, the Chinese come across as huge techno-optimists, with a massive 90% of their respondents backing the idea. Two of the remaining three BRIC economies, India and Brazil, also show strong support for tech, with 84% and 79% respectively.
So that’s all good, yes? Well, up to a point, as this optimism isn’t reflected in terms of whether tech is actually being used to address global issues. While China and India are again cheerleaders, on 88% and 81% respectively, Brazil breaks BRIC ranks with a dismal 41% believing technology is being used sufficiently in this cause, the same as the UK. But they’re more upbeat than the Europeans, with France and Germany both coming in at under a third of respondents in agreement, 33% and 32% respectively.
What do we want?
That begs the question perhaps of what it is that people are looking for tech to deliver in terms of benefits and progress? The two top benefits globally are named as making life more comfortable (54%) and better health (50%), the latter hardly surprising given the COVID crisis. Again there are regional variations. German respondents main priority is to make work easier, cited by 55% of respondents, while the US’ top benefit is found to be accident prevention (54%). Meanwhile nearly two-thirds of the Chinese (64%) see tech as an enabler of “optimization of the human being”.
As to which technologies offer the most potential good, opinion is highly divided. Perhaps surprisingly given the hype levels, Artificial Intelligence is cited by only 33% of global respondents, with just the Chinese naming it as the number one choice (55%), while India ranks it second on 40%. Biotechnology and climate engineering come number one and two globally. France and the US cite them both as their top choices, while the UK, Germany and Brazil cite at least one of them.
Again given the hype cycles, robots - both humanoid and industrial - are pretty low down on the rankings, as is quantum computing, VR/AR and blockchain. (No sign of the Metaverse in this year’s list.).
But robots and AI dominate the list of tech that could have a negative impact on society. Brazilians are particularly wary of robots with both humanoid/service robots and industrial robots topping their list of concerns with 33% and 29% respectively, but robots and AI make up the top slots for each regional response, with the exception of China where VR/AR takes the second slot, albeit with only 15% of respondents.
Overall there’s a lot more consistency on show around the negatives of technology. Top of the global concerns are the threats of cyber-attacks (61% overall) and lack of data security (54%). Those are mirrored pretty much as the two main priorities at regional level. That said, surveillance comes in second with 60% of respondents in Germany, while in the UK, 57% of people are worried about the power of a few corporations. In contrast, respondents in China and India are far less concerned about corporate clout it seems.
On climate change, there’s a lot of optimism on show. Some 83% of all respondents reckon tech will be used to tackle climate change, up seven points on last year’s study, with the Chinese the most in favor of this idea (89%), despite the country’s highly dubious track record on the environment. Meanwhile the lowest level of enthusiasm comes from the US, where climate change skepticism is a hugely divisive political issue.
And take it or leave it, but China has the self belief to see itself as a leader in the field of sustainable technologies (79% of respondents), followed by India (77%) and the US (66%). At the other end of the scale, Brazil sits with 31% and Germany with 45%. It’s the same story when respondents were asked if they believe their country does enough to support development and expansion of sustainable tech. China, India and the US are confident they’re playing their part (88%, 80% and 61% respectively), while Brazil and Germany say they’re not (38% and 37%).
Alarmingly, only 42% of all respondents buy into the idea that proclaimed corporate commitment to sustainable tech should be taken seriously. Again, China tops the field with 68%, the US comes in at 40%, while in Brazil only a quarter of respondents reckon their country’s businesses are on side.
Overall, 82% of respondents reckon that the more a company focuses on sustainable tech, the more economic success it will have in the future. The naysayers here are the Americans (73%) who indicate the lowest support for this idea, while India and Brazil are most behind the notion (87% each), followed by China (86%), suggesting that the BRIC bloc of developing economies is on the side of the future here.
On the other hand, it’s Chinese, Indian and Brazilian respondents that would be most likely to buy a car in the Metaverse (75%, 69%, 47% respectively), while the US, UK, German and French are more skeptical/pragmatic/sensible - delete as applicable according to personal prejudice. Whether that changes by this time next year remains to be seen…
An interesting read in the main, although questions such as “If it were technically feasible, would you rather travel back to the past or forward into the future?” maybe aren’t entirely helpful in terms of overall credibility. What does come across strongly is the divergence between the rising BRIC economies - obviously Russia isn’t included - and the US and Europeans. Worth a New Year read.