Australians remain sceptical of tech's ability to help society, despite all the progress

Source: Getty

The digital economy is overtaking the analog world, but it seems that Australians are more wary of the digital future than our global peers.

That’s the clear takeaway from the 2018 Digital Society Index conducted by Dentsu Aegis in collaboration with Oxford Economics.

The study found that when it comes to “the potential for digital technology to solve future global challenges, ranging from climate change to poverty eradication” only 42% of global respondents in the survey – covering 10 countries including Australia – “believe that digital technology will help solve the world’s most pressing challenges”.

Source: Digital Society Index 2018

Australia sits slightly lower than the international average with just 40% of respondents saying they agree that digital technology will help solve these challenges, which include poverty, health issues, environmental degradation.

But what is telling is the level of disquiet about the changes digital technology has wrought.

The study highlighted that:

  • 57% believe the pace of technological change is too fast. This view is most commonly held in China (76%) and Japan (72%);
  • 43% agree that technology has made society more unequal; and
  • 55% feel, not enough is being done to ensure that digital technology benefits everyone.

Behaviourally, that crushing. And it’s a challenge for government, business, and society at large.

Despite research showing that the future for jobs in an AI world is less grim than many expect participants outside of China seem universally pessimistic about the future of the jobs market in a digital economy.

Source: Digital Society Index 2018

Explaining this fear that the 20,000 respondents across the 10 countries expressed the authors of the study say, “such pessimism probably reflects the prevailing narrative and scare stories that often accompany discussions of digital’s impact on jobs, as well as concerns about the ability to keep up with quickly changing skill demands. By comparison, China is an outlier with 65% of people in that country believing that these technologies will create more opportunities for future employment”.

Part of the issue, the authors say, is that the spread of gains – or lack thereof – in the economy beyond the ICT sector and the size of growth in the ICT sector impact on perceptions of the impact of technological change.

“In the three countries with the fastest growing ICT sectors (Germany, Spain and the United States), only 52% of people think that the pace of technological change is too fast. However, in the three countries with the slowest ICT sector growth (Australia, China and Japan), 66% of people believe the pace of technological change is too fast,” they say.

Participation in and cognition of the information and communication technology sector is clearly important in remedying fear of the unknown.

That’s something the study shows with the saying businesses need to focus on “three key areas that are highly correlated with positive digital engagement”. Those things are “workplaces that fully leverage the digital capabilities of its employees, skills development and education, and the use of personal data”.

In the end, like an increasing body of evidence about the digital world and the digitalisation of business activities and offerings, the study suggests that it’s still the people and not the tech which is of primary importance.

Dentsu Aegis says, “any analysis of digital must start with people’ if engagement is to be increased and fear reduced.

“Current levels of digital engagement reflect the real concerns and worries that people have about their place within this future…But people need to be heard louder than before if we are to build a digital economy that harnesses the rich diversity of talents and attitudes that exist across our societies” Dentsu Aegis says.

To achieve this technology must remain the enabler, the servant, not the master.

You can read the full report here.

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