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Canadians’ concerns about generative artificial intelligence outweigh their excitement

By Byron Holland
President and CEO

Every year CIRA commissions an annual survey exploring how Canadians use the internet and publishes the insights in a new edition of Canada’s Internet Factbook. This year, CIRA is publishing a series of blog posts based on the findings of the 2024 Canada’s Internet Factbook survey. The blog that follows below is the first of four in the series.

Generative AI has taken the world by storm—offering us endless ways to boost our productivity, unlock creativity and improve our lives. It’s easy to think that a technology with so much promise—a general purpose technology that could have as big an impact on the global economy as the railway or electricity—would be adopted quickly by Canadians.  

However, the latest research on the subject, captured in this year’s Canada’s Internet Factbook, paints a very different picture. Is everybody talking about generative AI? The answer is certainly yes. But when it comes to actually using it, so far Canadians are showing a preference for their own intelligence over the artificial variety. In our annual survey of 2,000 Canadians, just 16 per cent overall say they’ve used a generative AI platform like ChatGPT in the past year. 

There are some notable regional differences, with New Brunswickers twice as likely (24 per cent) as Albertans (12 per cent) and Saskatchewanians (12 per cent) to report using generative AI, but overall adoption seems—in light of all the hype—surprisingly low.  

Among the large share of Canadians who have steered clear of generative AI tools so far, the most common reasons given are lack of interest (41 per cent) and lack of need (40 per cent), and a third of Canadians say they simply do not trust it enough to use it. 

Of the 16 per cent of Canadians who have used ChatGPT and other generative AI tools, just over two thirds (68 per cent) have done so in the workplace, and the good news is many are finding it useful. The top three benefits cited are speeding up a task they’re working on (33 per cent), brainstorming ideas (29 per cent), and creating written content (27 per cent). Among those who haven’t used generative AI for work, 47 per cent cite lack of need, 21 per cent are unsure how it could help their job, and 10 per cent are not permitted to by their employer. 

Outside the workplace, Canadians say they’re using the technology just to see how it works (56 per cent), to create written content for personal use (41 per cent) and as a search engine alternative (35 per cent). 

If the adoption rates are surprisingly low, so is the overall level of enthusiasm for the technology among Canadians. Just 17 per cent of survey respondents say they’re excited about the development of generative AI tools and platforms. This group cited the contribution of generative AI tools to technological advancement (55 per cent), its productivity and economic benefits (48 per cent) along with its potential for innovation and inventions (48 per cent) as the top reasons to be excited, but overall, the reception has been lukewarm at best.   

Why are Canadians so restrained about what is shaping up to be a transformational digital technology? Uncertainty about how it will be used–and possibly abused–is one key factor. More than half of those surveyed (51 per cent) admit to having concerns about generative AI, while just 17 per cent said they weren’t concerned.   

Some of the biggest sources of trepidation identified by respondents include the risk that generative AI platforms might contribute to the spread of misinformation and disinformation in general (67 percent) and the dissemination of “deep fake” images and videos in particular (69 per cent). A lack of regulations and controls governing the use of AI were another major source of worry cited by 65 per cent of respondents, along with the potential of this rapidly evolving technology to disrupt human society (56 per cent). 

On this last point, there’s little doubt that generative AI is a disruptive technology. It’s also not going anywhere. It will continue to evolve and, like the internet itself, have a profound impact economically, socially and politically in the lives of Canadians. At the same time, the many doubts Canadians have about the technology are valid and can only be addressed through an ongoing dialogue, one that will deepen our understanding of how best to reap the benefits of generative AI tools and platforms, while putting in place appropriate controls that mitigate the risks. 

About the author
Byron Holland

Byron Holland (MBA, ICD.D) is the president and CEO of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), the national not-for-profit best known for managing the .CA domain and developing new cybersecurity, DNS, and registry services.

Byron is an expert in internet governance and a seasoned entrepreneur. Under Byron’s leadership, CIRA has become one of the leading ccTLDs in the world, with over 3 million domains under management. Over the past decade, he has represented CIRA internationally and held numerous leadership positions within ICANN. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for TORIX, and is a member of the nominations committee for ARIN. He lives in Ottawa with his wife, two sons, and their Australian shepherd, Marley.

The views expressed in this blog are Byron’s opinions on internet-related issues, and are not necessarily those of the organization.