Whether you love it, fear it, or are just tired of hearing about it, there’s no denying the Age of AI is officially here. Though our feelings about AI technology may not stop the space race-esque competition between AI providers, exploring public perceptions of AI will help business owners learn the best way to leverage it without losing consumer trust.

What do your customers really think about Artificial Intelligence–and how would they react if they knew how much you relied on it? How do opinions about AI change across generations, industries, and use cases? What scares and excites consumers the most about AI?

I analyzed dozens of recent studies, surveys, whitepapers, and polls to find out–let me share what I discovered with you.


Trust In AI Varies By Generation 

Key Takeaway: Because younger generations (Gen Z and Millennials) have more experience with and knowledge of AI applications, they are more likely to trust it than older adults (Boomers/Silent Generation) who are less familiar with AI.

generational differences in ai perception


Perceptions of AI vary by generation and are influenced by each age group’s familiarity and hands-on experience with AI. There is a direct correlation between older generations’ lack of knowledge about AI technology and their distrust of it.

According to the 2024 KPMG Generative AI Consumer Trust Survey, while 74% of Gen Z and Millennials say they’re “extremely” or “very” knowledgeable about AI, only 13% of Boomers and Silent Generationists say the same. 43% of older adults say they’re “not too” or “not at all” knowledgeable about AI, compared to just 5% of younger generations.  Further, 69% of Gen Zers and Millennials say GenAI significantly impacts their personal lives, compared to only 9% of Boomers and Silent Generationists.

Perhaps this is why older adults are less likely to trust AI than younger ones–and why Boomers and Silent Generationists are more worried about the overall risks of AI and the lack of federal regulations surrounding it than Gen Zers and Millennials.

Of the Gen Zers and Millennials polled in the KPMG study:

  • 80% say GenAI offers more benefits than risk
  • 59% say GenAI poses little to no risk to society
  • 88% trust organizations using GenAI in daily operations
  • 60% say there is either enough or too much federal regulation around AI

Of the Boomers and Silent Generationists polled in the KPMG study:

  • 35% say GenAI offers more risks than benefits
  • 59% say GenAI is a moderate-to-major risk to society
  • 55% trust organizations using GenAI in daily operations
  • 65% say there is not enough federal regulation around AI

While intergenerational opinions about AI vary by use case, younger generations are still more comfortable with the use of AI than older ones.

A September 2023 MITRE-Harris survey on AI Trends found significant gaps (20% or more) between Boomers and Gen Z comfort levels with the use of AI in entertainment recommendations, benefits processing, and facial recognition technology. [*]

The biggest intergenerational difference of opinion about AI?

Surprisingly, it’s about the use of AI in targeted advertising on social media: while 64% of Gen Zers are comfortable with it, only 29% of Boomers feel the same–a 35% difference.


Consumers Want Better AI Regulations

Key Takeaway: With distrust in AI trending upward, American consumers want standardized federal regulations for AI–especially relating to transparency of use, data privacy, and accountability for bad actors.

ai regulation


As AI continues to evolve, consumer distrust in it grows.  The percentage of American adults who believe there should be more of an investment in AI assurance measures grew by 11 points in one year (2022-2023). Now, 72% want the federal government to invest more time and funding into researching and developing AI security standards.

This desire for federal AI regulation is a direct result of continually decreasing consumer trust in AI. From 2022 to 2023, there was a 9-point drop in the percentage of adults who agree with the statement “I believe today’s AI technologies are safe and secure,” and a 7-point drop in the percentage of those who believe AI primarily exists to “assist, enhance, and empower consumers.

Overall, Americans are less willing to rely on AI for daily tasks, less comfortable with government use of AI in decision-making, and less confident in AI’s ability to correctly assist with “mission-critical applications in defense and national security” than they were in 2022. [*]

Now, over 80% of consumers agree that:

  • AI technologies need to be regulated to protect consumers (85%)
  • Businesses need to share AI assurance practices transparently before selling AI-powered products (85%)
  • Businesses that invest in AI products need to contribute to AI assurance (85%)
  • Making AI safer for the public must be a federal effort across government, academia, and industry (85%)
  • Those developing AI tools should coordinate with one another and share data to make them safer (84%)

While these numbers are enough to make any business owner think twice before leveraging AI, the good news is that consumers aren’t blaming a lack of AI regulations on the businesses using them. Instead, they’re more concerned with AI technology developers.

65% of consumers say they still trust a business that leverages AI, while an additional 21% say the use of AI tools doesn’t impact their trust in a business at all. [*]


Top Consumer Concerns about AI

Key Takeaway: While online discourse and headlines may make us think job displacement is the number one concern about AI, in reality, consumers are more worried about AI’s role in cyberattacks, scams, and misinformation.

ai transparency


The above data clearly illustrates the American public’s growing concern about AI: but what exactly are they so worried about?

Surprisingly, the biggest concern isn’t that AI will take everyone’s jobs. As of this writing, only 52% of consumers are concerned about AI replacing their jobs.

Instead, consumers are much more worried about AI’s roles in: [*] [*]

  • Malicious cyberattacks (80%)
  • Identity theft (78%)
  • Collecting and selling personal data (76%)
  • Autonomous vehicles (73%)
  • Core infrastructure decisions (70%)
  • Deceptive political ads (74% across the political spectrum)
  • Fake news/content (67%)
  • Scams/phishing schemes (65%)

Just like generalized AI anxiety, more specific concerns about AI are also trending upward.

In 2023, 77% of consumers reported being concerned about the lack of transparency in AI (up from 69% in 2022), and 70% reported being concerned about AI creating and expanding social biases (up from 62% in 2022). [*]


Perceptions of AI By Use Case

Key Takeaway: Perceptions of and trust in AI vary according to industry and specific use case. Consumer trust in AI is highest when used as an educational resource, to make personalized recommendations, or to provide customer service–but is lowest when used to power self-driving cars and make investment decisions.


Provider and Patient Perspectives on AI In Healthcare

Overall, patients are much more enthusiastic about the use of AI in healthcare than medical professionals–but both patients and providers say their sense of trust in AI varies according to its specific use case within a healthcare setting. Patients and providers agree that AI can’t replace a human medical professional’s expertise, experience, or bedside manner–and both question the reliability and accuracy of AI-generated diagnoses and treatment plans.

A 2023 Tebra survey on Perceptions of AI In Healthcare found that 8/10 patients believe AI can improve the quality and accessibility of healthcare while lowering its costs. 57% of Americans say GenAI’s greatest impact will be improving people's mental and physical health–and ¼ of patients say they wouldn’t visit a healthcare provider that didn’t leverage AI technology. Patients cite faster access to in-person medical care, telemedicine, and a reduced risk of human error in medical decisions as the biggest reasons to visit a provider using AI.

In stark contrast, only 26% of medical professionals say they’re “excited” about integrating AI into the medical field–and 42% are “not excited” at all.  While medical professionals plan to use AI primarily for data entry (52%), appointment scheduling (42%), and patient communication (36%), their biggest concerns are the loss of human interaction (55%), patient data privacy (50%), and provider over-reliance on AI (49%.) Providers are less likely to use AI for remote and in-person patient monitoring, diagnosis, treatment, or as virtual medical assistants. Instead, they say AI will help improve efficiency and deliver cost savings via task automation.

Still, 53% of Americans agree that AI can’t replicate the experience of visiting a real live medical professional–and 47% are concerned that AI may generate inaccurate diagnoses and treatment plans.

Therefore–for now, at least–AI’s biggest impact on healthcare isn’t performing open-heart surgery or using GenAI voicebots to talk people off building roofs. Instead, it’s streamlining the patient onboarding/scheduling process and automating exhausting paperwork.


Public Perceptions of AI in Finance

Overall, American consumers are hesitant about AI’s role in banking and finance and don’t trust AI technology to manage their money or correctly identify them at the ATM (via facial recognition.) According to findings from a 2024 JD Power survey of 4,000 nationwide retail banking customers, 64% of people say the use of AI in financial services puts them at somewhat of a risk level, while 20% think the tools expose them to extreme risk. [*]

Though banks currently offer tools that leverage AI to find and compare savings rates, loans, and investments, only 11% of customers surveyed say they currently use these tools–and between 14-26% of respondents say they never will.

While consumer trust in AI-powered banking applications is currently low, the majority of those polled say they’re willing to try out the technology once it’s been proven to work. Public perception is the most positive about AI banking apps that help customers avoid fraud, with 21% of respondents saying they’re already using banking fraud prevention tools and 36% saying they would try them out immediately.

If banks and other financial institutions can prove to their customers that AI-powered banking apps are secure, 33% of consumers would be willing to try out tools that automate investment portfolio management, make investment recommendations, or offer suggestions on how to save money.


Consumer and Business Owner Perspectives on AI In Retail

On both business owner and consumer sides, the retail industry has the most positive perception of AI out of all the industries explored in this post.

Square’s 2024 Future of Commerce report found that 100% of business owners say technology and automation have improved their business, especially via automated order tracking (43%) and automated payroll/benefits (42%). 45% of retailers say adopting automation technology has increased employee retention and profits, and 47% say it has improved the customer experience. [*]

77% of retail shoppers are comfortable or neutral if AI is used to help improve their shopping experience, and 67% prefer automated tools over interacting with live staff for basic tasks like ordering out-of-stock products or checking inventory. Shoppers are most excited about retailers using AI to automate checkout (31%).

Consumers have the highest sense of trust in AI-generated retail tools that automatically tailor promotions and deals based on buying history (61%), generate product purchase reminders (58%), and virtual try-on/view in my space VR tools (56%).


Maintaining Consumer Trust in the Age of AI: Best Practices 

While federal regulation of AI is on the horizon, as a business owner, it’s still your responsibility to use AI ethically, effectively, and transparently–or risk losing consumer trust in your brand.

Best practices for leveraging AI while maintaining customer trust are:

  • Develop an AI Code of Ethics: Create an AI Code of Ethics for your business that outlines why, how, and when you’ll use AI–and why, how, and when you won’t. Identify the potential risks of using AI technology, routinely check for algorithmic bias and discrimination, and make it easy for customers to opt out of automated data collection. Overwhelmed? The OSTP’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights is a great place to start.
  • Prioritize human oversight: Though AI can do lots of incredible things, the truth is that most AI technology isn’t anywhere near ready to operate 100% autonomously (don’t believe me? Just try out a few AI tools yourself–the gaps will quickly become obvious.) Human oversight isn’t just an essential part of any effective AI strategy, it also ensures your business and customers get the most out of AI-powered tools like Agent Assist. Have a human review and edit AI-generated content, check it for accuracy and completeness, and continually monitor AI applications. Most of all? Make it easy for customers to talk to a real person when they need to.
  • Be transparent about how you use AI: Your customers may not always be able to tell when they’re talking to an AI-powered voice or chatbot, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell them. The same goes for AI-generated blog content, product recommendations, customer service/support, etc.
  • Protect customer data and privacy: Be transparent about what data you collect, how long you store it, and what you use it for. Ensure customers can easily opt-out, and always redact/anonymize sensitive customer data.