Australians sceptical about innovation: report

Posted on 09 Apr 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

AI trust scepticism innovation

A new study has revealed that Australians are deeply distrustful of the introduction of new technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer found there is widespread scepticism of the ability of key institutions to manage innovation, a mindset which could threaten the acceptance and adoption of emerging technologies.

While trust in charities and not-for-profits remains high, the findings come as the sector moves rapidly to embrace AI.

An annual study by the technology-focused social enterprise Infoxchange released in November that revealed one in four NFP and charity organisations are already using AI in their operations.

Data contained in the latest Digital Technology in the Not-for-Profit Sector report confirmed organisations were moving quickly to embrace new technology tools such as machine learning and AI, lured by the promise of increased productivity in a resource constrained sector.

The Infoxchange report predicted two-thirds of sector organisations would adopt AI solutions within the year.

However, the Edelman trust report – subtitled Innovation in Peril – found widespread distrust in the community at large of how the introduction of new technology is managed, in a time of rapid transformation and macroeconomic and geopolitical instability.

The global report, which examined trust across business, government, non-government organisations and media, revealed:

  • Australia is the second most likely nation in the world (behind the United States) to believe innovation is poorly managed
  • more than 73% of Australians who hold the above view believe society is changing too quickly and that the change is happening in ways that will not benefit people such as them
  • a strong link between how innovation is managed and the likelihood of it being accepted and adopted
  • that a narrow window of opportunity remains to restore faith in innovation in Australia, but leaders must move quickly or risk a further slide in the public’s confidence in the pace and impact of technological change

The report found that when Australians were quizzed on their views on innovation, 53% rejected artificial intelligence and just 15% who said they embraced it.

Furthermore, 16% of Australians rejected green energy as a form of innovation, 35% were in favour of gene-based medicine and 57% supported GMO foods.

Edelman innovation trust graphic
“Currently, many Australians feel that innovation is being mismanaged and tech is leaving them behind, which is in turn exacerbating divisions already prevalent in society.”
Edelman Australia CEO Tom Robinson.

Edelman Australia CEO Tom Robinson said there was much work to do to earn the trust of Australians when it comes to the introduction of new technology.

“Currently, many Australians feel that innovation is being mismanaged and tech is leaving them behind, which is in turn exacerbating divisions already prevalent in society,” he said.

“This year’s Trust Barometer has shown that, to build trust in our institutions and their leaders in Australia, we need to work together in partnership, and be open to new, transparent models of communication.”

Mr Robinson said Australians wanted a forum in which to raise their concerns.

“They want information about new technologies and innovations which is balanced, and which addresses those concerns in a real way.”

Sector hungry for data

Data management and artificial intelligence continue to be hot topics in the NFP and charity sector in Australia.

The implications of AI and strategies on how to make best use of the emerging technology dominate the agenda at next month’s Technology for Social Change conference presented by Infoxchange in Melbourne.

The conference will examine topics ranging from AI, data and cybersecurity to automation, digital inclusivity and digital marketing.

Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs said not-for-profits could amplify their impact and drive positive social change by embracing innovation responsibly.

“At a minimum, it's becoming essential for not-for-profits to be aware of the opportunities and threats in the technology landscape to remain relevant, connected with their community and supporters, and efficient and secure in their operations,” he said.

“In recent years, we've witnessed a rapid acceleration in digital technology, particularly in areas such as artificial intelligence, data and cybersecurity.

“These trends present both opportunities and challenges for not-for-profits.”

Mr Spriggs said that while AI has immense potential to drive efficiencies and streamline operations, for example, NFPs needed to approach its implementation cautiously, ensuring ethical considerations and data privacy are prioritised.

“Our Digital Technology in the Not-For-Profit Sector report has been tracking these trends and the use of technology in the sector for nearly 10 years now,” he said.

“The report provides good insights into the sector's challenges and opportunities and how things have changed.”

A shift in authority – Trust in companies headquartered in global powers (e.g. China, USA) is in decline, amid increasing worry over societal threats and leaders misleading citizens.

An estimated 59% of Australians are concerned government, business leaders and journalists, are purposely trying to mislead people.

Politicisation of innovation – Australians see science as under political pressure, but 64% feel government lacks the competence to regulate innovation effectively.

A reset for science – Science has a communications problem that could be improved with better messaging, more transparency, and an explanation of its impact on regular people.

Australians want technical experts (69%) and scientists (67%) to lead on implementation of innovation.

Restoring trust in the promise of innovation – People are more likely to embrace innovation if they are confident it will lead to a better future.

More than half (55%) of Australians said they would trust business more with technology-led changes if it partnered with government.

Restoring trust is key

Mr Robinson said the Edelman report revealed a new paradox at the heart of society: on one hand, rapid innovation offers the promise of a new era of economic prosperity, while on the other, it risks exacerbating trust issues, leading to further societal instability.

“Australians have strong opinions as to how trust in innovation could be restored and there are clear lessons business leaders can draw from this report,” he said.

Restoring trust in innovation graphic

Mr Robinson said increasing numbers of Australians said they would trust business more in relation to technology-led changes if it partnered with government, while more than half expect company leaders to manage changes occurring in society, not just their own businesses.

This presented a mandate for CEOs to speak publicly about key topics at the heart of emerging technology, such as job skills of the future, automation’s impact on jobs and the ethical use of technology.

“We need our institutions to build confidence in how emerging technology will lead to a better future and unlock opportunities for growth and development across society,” said Mr Robinson.

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