The rise of algorithms
Algorithms – sets of steps that a computer follows to perform certain tasks – are increasingly entering consumers’ everyday lives. Thanks to the rapid progress in the field of artificial intelligence, algorithms are able to understand and produce natural language and learn quickly from experience. They can accomplish an increasingly comprehensive list of tasks, from diagnosing some complex diseases to driving cars and providing legal advice. Algorithms can even perform seemingly subjective tasks such as detecting emotions in facial expressions and tones of voice. While many algorithms can outperform even expert humans, many consumers remain skeptical: Should they rely more on humans or on algorithms? According to previous findings, the default option is to rely on humans, even when doing so results in objectively worse outcomes. However, our research provides insight into when and why consumers are likely to use algorithms, and how marketers can increase their use.
Consumers’ algorithm skepticism
One reason why consumers have ambivalent feelings toward algorithms is related to the kind of abilities consumers typically associate with algorithms. Consumers tend to believe that machines lack fundamentally human capabilities that are emotional or intuitive in nature. While capabilities such as logic and rationality are seen as something humans and machines have in common, machines are not perceived to be human-like when it comes to affective or emotional aspects. Therefore, consumers often assume that algorithms will be less effective at tasks which humans approach with intuition or emotions. As beliefs about a technology’s effectiveness are fundamental determinants for its adoption, consumers tend to prefer humans in such cases. Whether or not consumers trust algorithms depends on the nature of the task to be performed, and also on the way the algorithm itself is presented. Framing both task and algorithm in appropriate ways can foster adoption of and trust in algorithms, according to our research.