Robots, artificial intelligence (AI) and other digital technologies have become very newsworthy around the globe (NZPC, 2019). The news coverage is overwhelmingly pessimistic – for individuals and society in general. But does that coverage translate into negative attitudes for the population as a whole? The Productivity Commission asked 1 001 New Zealanders about their attitudes to emerging digital technologies in February 2020. The questions asked were a subset of those asked by the European Commission across 28 EU countries in March 2017, allowing for an (admittedly imperfect) cross-country comparison.
New Zealanders were, overall, much more negative than those in EU countries about the effects of emerging technologies on the economy and on society. By contrast, they are very positive about the effect of these technologies on their own quality of life, and about the quality of their own digital skills. New Zealanders’ attitudes to robots and AI were somewhat mixed. They are relatively negative about socially positive uses of robots, yet relatively unconcerned that robots would “steal peoples’ jobs”. New Zealander’s responses to most questions did not vary much by age. However, older New Zealanders are less confident than younger ones that their digital skills are sufficient for a hypothetical future job. New Zealanders with incomes less than $50K showed less favourable attitudes to digital technologies than those earning more than $50K. This effect was particularly pronounced in responses to the statement “robots steal people’s jobs”. There was little difference between those earning $50–100K and those earning above $100K.