Late last month, a report issued by Deloitte highlighted the growth of the artificial intelligence sector in Canada. The country has become a global leader in areas such as patents, venture capital investment, female participation and publications. Still, for most residents, this is a topic that remains remote and alarming.
When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about AI, three in five (60 per cent) told us they are following news stories related to it “very closely” or “moderately closely.” Canadians aged 18 to 34 and aged 35 to 54 are more likely to be tuning in to anything AI-related (67 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively) than their counterparts aged 55 and over (52 per cent).
There is deep division when Canadians are asked to assess what this technology will mean for humanity. For two in five Canadians (40 per cent), AI represents an opportunity. Slightly more (46 per cent) perceive it as a threat.
There is currently no region of the country where most residents look at AI as an opportunity. The proportion is highest in Alberta (45 per cent), followed by British Columbia and Quebec (each at 44 per cent), Ontario (41 per cent), Atlantic Canada (40 per cent) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (30 per cent).
Sizable proportions of Canadians are “very” or “moderately” concerned about three scenarios that may materialize in a world where we rely more on AI. Baby Boomers and Generation Xers may recall the 1983 motion picture War Games, where a computer is on the verge of starting World War III. For 70 per cent of Canadians, AI causing an event that leads to the loss of human life is a worry. Among Canadians aged 55 and over, the proportion jumps to 80 per cent.
The notion of AI leading to less-intelligent students at universities is a concern for 73 per cent of Canadians and 79 per cent of those who voted for the Conservative Party in the 2021 federal election.
Another common criticism of AI is its potential to take over jobs currently performed by humans. This is a cause for alarm for 77 per cent of Canadians and for 80 per cent of those in the lowest household income bracket.
When Canadians ponder the people that will develop and manage AI, there are only two groups that are bestowed with a high level of confidence. About three in five Canadians trust doctors and nurses (62 per cent) and universities (59 per cent) to tackle this endeavour. Canadians have little trouble imagining a future where academic rigour is properly harnessed to allow for ailments to be dealt with automatically.
Tech executives, who will play a pivotal role in where AI ultimately lands, are trusted by only 40 per cent of Canadians. Confidence plummets for the federal government (34 per cent), provincial governments (33 per cent) and international governments (22 per cent). Business executives and CEOs, who are already being tasked with touting the benefits of this technology, are trusted by just 24 per cent of Canadians to develop and manage AI.
With these numbers, it is not surprising to see more than half of Canadians (55 per cent) call for the development of AI to be slowed down. Smaller proportions are willing to continue as quickly as possible (20 per cent) or to abandon AI altogether (13 per cent).
The results of this survey do not suggest that Canadians will never welcome AI, but they do show how complicated the road to full implementation will be. There have been other moments in history where animosity towards change has been significant among Canadians, from stores being open on Sunday to the installation of cell phone towers in municipalities.
Our feelings can evolve. In August, we reported an increase in the proportion of Canadians who would welcome the chance to make purchases with biometrics. Still, at this stage, Canadians are more likely to look at AI as a threat, and express more confidence in academics and medical professionals than in governments and businesses to play a role in AI’s development and management.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted Sept. 27-28 among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.