Jan 24, 2024

Hesitant & Hopeful: How Different Generations View Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has swept into today’s culture and is likely here to stay.

“Society is recognizing that the once far-off possibilities of artificial intelligence have rapidly become the reality of our present,” Barna CEO David Kinnaman has said about the growing technology. “Whether you’re compelled, curious, confused or concerned about these new technologies, you probably have a lot of questions—about how AI might influence your day-to-day life, your job, your family, your worship gatherings and so on.”

To provide insight, Barna has partnered with Gloo to study the evolving perceptions and possibilities surrounding AI, especially within the Church.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, different generations view AI differently. But AI is a technology that’s rapidly changing—and so are the opinions of how it should and should not be used. This article begins to tell the generational story of AI usage and how this might affect the ways older and younger generations engage with each other—and the world around them.

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Younger Generations Are Curious About AI, Older Generations—Skeptical
Although AI may seem to be taking the world by storm, many are still warming up to the technology. Even among younger generations, there is some hesitancy. Around one in three Gen Z (29%) and Millennials (32%) say they are “skeptical” of AI, more than they are “excited” about it (20% of Gen Z and 23% of Millennials say this). Younger generations are more prone to feel “curious” about AI (42% of Gen Z and 40% of Millennials say this).

Skepticism is far more prominent among older adults. Nearly half of Boomers (49%) say they are skeptical of AI. While Barna can’t say the exact reasoning behind this skepticism, the data does point to a notable amount of distrust. In fact, 45 percent of Boomers flat out say “I don’t trust it” when asked how they feel about AI (compared to 18% of Gen Z, 21% of Millennials and 25% of Gen X). Just 18 percent of Boomers agree with the statement, “I trust AI to be objective and accurate,” compared to half of Gen Z (49%) and Millennials (50%), and 35 percent of Gen X. Boomers are also the most likely generation to say they don’t understand AI.

Born from 1946–1964, Boomers have seen a fair share of new developments in technology. But AI’s autonomy and decision-making abilities present both a learning curve and trust factor that many aren’t ready to embrace.

No Matter Their Age, U.S. Adults Are Hopeful AI Will Bring Positive Change
About a third of Barna survey respondents (32%) say they are “hopeful AI can do positive things in the world.” This number remains about the same across all generations. Moral concerns about AI also aren’t very high, with about one in five saying they have these reservations, regardless of age. (This article talks more about how U.S. adults are open to using AI.)

This is notable: Though older generations generally lack trust and excitement about AI, they maintain some level of positivity about the technology. It’s not all “doom and gloom” for them; it seems older adults just need more time, proof and practice.

So, how does this affect AI usage? Millennials are using AI the most, compared to other generations. Two in five (43%) say they use the technology at least weekly (vs. 34% of Gen Z, 32% of Gen X and 20% of Boomers). Data shows that this usage is primarily for personal reasons, rather than for their job. The plurality of Gen Z (35%%) and Millennials (38%) use AI in their personal lives “sometimes.” Gen X (35%) and Boomers (53%) are more likely to say they aren’t using AI at all in their personal lives. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise since Gen Z and Millennials have grown up often using—and even relying on—technology.

Work-related use of AI is far less common across all generations. Over two in five employed U.S. adults (43%) answer “not at all” when asked how often they use AI for their job. Though Gen X (47%) and Boomers (57%) are more likely to say this, over a third of employed Gen Z (36%) and Millennials (34%) admit they aren’t using AI for work.

All Generations Are Aware of How AI Might Affect Their Lives
Barna data shows that, for now, AI is perceived to be an optional tool that’s on the cusp of affecting people’s daily lives.

When asked if they are feeling the urgency to integrate AI into their lives, most U.S. adults say “not really” (35%) or “not at all” (33%). Through a generational lens, we see that young people are more aware of AI’s potential influence than older adults. Half of Gen Z say they “somewhat” (39%) or “definitely” (11%) feel the urgency to integrate AI into their lives. On the other hand, just 14 percent of Boomers “somewhat” (13%) or “definitely” (1%) feel this urgency.

Still, older generations are aware of how this technology might change their lives: 51 percent of Gen X and 36 percent of Boomers agree with the statement, “AI will change my everyday life” (vs. 52% of Gen Z, 58% of Millennials).

Seeing AI as relevant to their lives, however, will take some convincing for older adults. Is there wisdom in this wariness of AI among older genereations or will they be behind the curve on a new, life-changing innovation? Only time will tell.

About the Research

This data is based on a survey of 1,500 U.S. adults conducted online from July 28–August 7, 2023, via a consumer research panel. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.1 percent at the 95 percent confidence level. Quotas were set to representation by region, race / ethnicity, education, age and gender based on the U.S. Census Bureau. Minimal statistical weighting has been applied to maximize sample representation.

Photo by Domencio Loia on Unsplash.

© Barna Group, 2024.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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