While other research reports have found that employees may be intimidated by or even fearful of emerging tech such as AI, new research from business analytics and consulting firm Ernst & Young paints an entirely different picture. The firm’s recent survey finds that a vast majority of US workers (89 percent) believe adopting emerging technologies is beneficial for their company—but more than half (59 percent) say their senior leadership is slow to embrace these potentially game-changing technologies.
The newly released Emerging Tech at Work Survey asked more than 1,000 US employees about their familiarity with and expected impact of 12 emerging technologies—including AI, machine learning (ML), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), digital twin, edge and quantum computing, and biometrics—and reveals crucial insights for business leaders considering the implementation of new technologies and navigating barriers to adoption.
Employees are enthusiastic about the promise of new technologies, but 52 percent say that technologies are outdated by the time their company does implement them. In addition, there is a generational divide in adoption and expectations. Gen Z and millennial employees are more likely than other generations of employees to say they currently use generative AI to draft emails (24 percent for Gen Z and 27 percent for millennial vs. 12 percent for Gen X and 6 percent for baby boomers) and are also more likely to say senior leadership at their company do not see the value of adopting emerging technology (58 percent for Gen Z and 53 percent for millennial vs. 42 percent for Gen X and 42 percent for baby boomers).
“Today’s workforce is anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s digital capabilities,” said Faisal Alam, EY Americas consulting emerging technology leader, in a news release. “Though leaders acknowledge how new technologies can transform their business, they need to also be aware of employee perceptions around the slow pace of adoption, and the barriers and risks that could undermine efforts.”
Employee show great excitement for emerging technologies
Employees had overwhelmingly positive reactions about how emerging technologies could impact their role. For example, among respondents familiar with each technology, a vast majority say that having digital twin (87 percent), edge computing (86 percent), quantum computing (84 percent) or cloud/serverless computing (80 percent) at their company would change their role or job function for the better. And employees familiar with generative AI view it as one of the emerging technologies with the capability to improve efficiency (61 percent), speed (62 percent) and productivity (60 percent) in their current day-to-day work.
The technologies most widely expected to be used in business within three years among employees familiar with each were generative AI (55 percent), the metaverse (50 percent), and AI/ML (50 percent), while quantum computing was perceived as the most futuristic (32 percent). In fact, 23 percent of US workers already use AI/ML technology to automate repetitive tasks, and 60 percent are willing to use AI/ML for that purpose in the future.
Overcoming barriers to maximize the potential of new technology
One of the primary barriers for adoption employees have for all new emerging technologies is cybersecurity risks. Employees agreed that cybersecurity training for new technologies is important and that, ultimately, the high cyber risk will not stop many from adopting emerging tech. Among the individual technologies explored, employees familiar with Quantum Computing, for example, three-quarters (78 percent) were concerned about its associated cybersecurity risks.
Beyond cybersecurity, less pronounced but very real barriers include:
- Ethical and moral concerns, especially among those familiar with AI/ML (38 percent)
- A skills gap, i.e. a or shortage of skilled employees to use the technology, which was most problematic among those familiar with AI/ML (37 percent), quantum (36 percent) and edge computing (36 percent)
- Insufficient training or upskilling opportunities, especially among respondents familiar with digital twin (33 percent) and quantum computing (32 percent)
“Establishing trust is foundational for integrating new, emerging technologies into an organization of any size,” Alam said. “In order to realize the full upside of groundbreaking advances like AI and edge computing, leaders must strategically put employees at the center of their transformation decisions by communicating their objectives for new technologies early and often.”
EY US commissioned a third-party vendor to conduct an online survey among n=1,001 full- and part-time US employees, ages 18+, who are familiar with at least one emerging technology (artificial intelligence/machine learning, virtual reality/augmented reality, the metaverse, blockchain, Web3, the Internet of Things, digital twin, quantum computing, cloud/serverless computing, biometrics, edge computing and generative AI). The study was fielded between February 6 and February 15, 2023. The margin of error (MOE) for the total sample is +/- 3 percentage points.