In relation to virtual assistants, we asked specifically about smart speakers and about the use of virtual assistants in healthcare.
The British public most commonly chose accessibility and speed as benefits in relation to virtual assistants, a similar finding to the benefits chosen for robotics. Accessibility (‘The technology will allow people with difficulty using devices to access features more easily’) is the most selected benefit of smart speakers, selected by 71% of people. To a lesser extent, accessibility is also the top benefit mentioned in relation to virtual health assistants (53% chose ‘The technology will be easier for some groups of people in society to use, such as those who have difficulty leaving their home’).
Speed is the second most selected benefit for both technologies. Over half, 60%, of people selected speed as a benefit for smart speakers, while 50% selected it for virtual mental health assistants.
Table 7: Most commonly selected benefits for virtual assistants
‘Which of the following, if any, are ways you think the use of this technology will be beneficial?’
|Smart speakers||1 Improve accessibility||71%|
|2 Faster and easier||60%|
|Virtual healthcare assistants||1 Improve accessibility||53%|
|3 Save money||35%|
People are most concerned about the gathering and sharing of personal data for smart speakers. This is also a common concern across other technologies that are more visible and commonplace in day-to-day lives, such as the use of facial recognition for unlocking mobile phones, and targeted online social media advertisements.
Over half (57%) of the British public selected ‘the technology will gather personal information which could be shared with third parties’ as a concern. This concern aligns with previous research into attitudes towards the use of personal data, where data security and privacy were felt to be the greatest risk for data use in society. This concern is particularly salient among those who are more generally concerned by smart speakers, where the top two concerns relate to personal information. In this group, 79% are concerned that their personal information could be shared with third parties and 68% are concerned their personal information is less safe and secure. These concerns suggest that people see data security as more significant for AI technologies that are designed for more personal use, particularly in spaces like home or work.
The biggest concern in relation to virtual assistants in healthcare relates to the potential difficulty for some people to use it, and the technology not being able to account for individual differences.
Almost two thirds of the British public (64%) identify difficulty in use (‘some people may find it difficult to use the technology’) as a concern in relation to virtual assistants in healthcare, which is higher than the 53% who mention accessibility as a benefit. This concern reiterates the value people place on AI technologies working for all members of society. Another major concern raised around virtual assistants in healthcare is that the technology may not account for individual circumstances as well as human healthcare professionals (63%).
Those with experience of virtual assistants in healthcare are more likely than those without to report concerns around the technology being more inaccurate than humans. Concerns include: suggesting diagnosis and treatment options; the difficulty of assigning who is accountable when the technology makes mistakes; and the technology being less effective for some members of society.
However, those with experience of these technologies are also more likely to report benefits relating to accessibility, helping the health system save money, personal information being secure and the technology being less likely than healthcare professionals to discriminate against some groups of people in society.
Table 8: Most commonly selected concerns for virtual assistants
‘Which of the following, if any, are concerns that you have about the use of this technology?’
|Smart speakers||1 Share personal information||57%|
|3 Difficult to use||44%|
|Virtual healthcare assistants||1 Difficult to use||64%|
|2 Less able to account for individual circumstance||63%|
|3 Less accurate than professionals||51%|