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IoT, culture and the global fear index

Technology can inspire the best and the worst in our imaginations: for every bright vision of technological progress, there’s a contrary vision of killer robots — and IoT is no exception. While some of us in the industry might think rationally — and generally positively — about technology adoption, the general public’s perception is often more emotional, and in some cases negative. Why is this? Does it have to do with the technology itself, or are there deeper motivators? What role does a person’s culture play, or their upbringing?

To help answer these questions, Deloitte conducted a Fear Index survey, a global study of public views on 13 emerging technologies ranging from AI to blockchain as well as 3D printing. The results can be a useful reference for business leaders across the globe interested in implementing IoT.

Clear national and technological differences

The first thing that struck us in the survey results was that overall positive and negative views of technology are neither uniform nor random. Rather, there are clear groupings where views more or less align, often breaking down by regional, economic or other indicators. For example, China and Spain have significantly more positive views of technologies compared to the U.S., U.K., Germany, Israel and Netherlands. India sits neatly between positive and negative.

There is at least one area where respondents tend to agree: Many respondents feel guarded about technologies with a strong physical element with the exception of 3D printing, which is almost uniformly seen as a positive development.

Why is this? The answer could be because physical-digital technologies such as drones, robots or self-driving vehicles move, so they’re experienced differently by people compared to technologies that are static. There might also be a concern about potential risks to physical safety from moving technology or anxiety over giving up human control.

IoT and the real secret to tech positivity

What do sentiments like these mean for those working to implement IoT globally? To begin with, we should remember when pitching solutions that what works in one country might not work in another. These findings can be used to help tailor pitches, such as emphasizing IoT’s technical maturity and speed in China, while underscoring benefits like improved personal safety and privacy protections in Europe.

The good news for IoT advocates is that, of the technologies described in the survey, IoT was viewed most or next-to-most positively in every country. This might be because more than 60% of respondents reported being familiar with the technology compared to less than half for technologies such as self-driving cars, blockchain or robotic process automation. Interestingly, IoT was also the only technology in the survey where U.S. respondents described a higher rate of familiarity compared to China.

Based on these results, we know culture and familiarity are important indicators of how a given technology is viewed. But are they strong predictors of whether a technology is viewed positively? As with much research data, the answer is both yes and no. What the data clearly shows is that an individual’s personal attitude toward new technologies is a greater predictor of their views than either their nationality, age, gender or education.

When it comes to technology, familiarity breeds positivity: The more we know about a technology — whether through media or direct experience — the more likely we are to view it positively. If we’re able to understand how a technology works, we can more accurately see its strengths and limitations, and are less prone to blind optimism or hysterical panic. We can take well-reasoned approaches to technology adoption, enhancing its benefits and minimizing any negative side effects.

Tech leader takeaways

What’s the upshot for technology leaders? A strong argument about system performance of IoT projects can help sell products, as can having insight into cultural and emotional associations with the technology. But to significantly boost IoT adoption, the best tactic is to get people directly involved.

Show users how the technology works, how they can use it and in what ways it will impact their daily tasks. The more they see and do, the more likely they are to view IoT in a positive light. Wherever you are in the world, it turns out people can be quite similar: we all like to know what we’re dealing with, and no one likes black box solutions parachuted into their workspace.

It turns out that beyond Edison, Maxwell or Cerf, the visionary who can teach us the most about IoT adoption might just be Dr. Seuss. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

With IoT and a little engagement, you can go quite far indeed.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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