What Do Users Really Think About AI?

Conscious Experience Design

Designing for the evolving human+machine relationship

A column by Ken Olewiler
December 18, 2023

As we enter 2024, artificial intelligence (AI) is part of virtually every product-design conversation. Companies are racing to incorporate AI into their products, hoping to push the limits of innovation to attract and engage customers and impact the business’s bottom line. As UX designers, our charter is always to create seamless relationships between users and digital products. AI represents a whole new field of possible experiences.

Now, with AI ubiquitously underpinning so many new products, I believe the biggest challenge of 2024 will be thoughtfully placing AI at the forefront of innovation by understanding users’ perspectives, needs, concerns, and objectives. AI can and will do many amazing things. The big question is: what should it do?

In this column, I’ll share some of my reflections regarding the adoption of AI by users, focusing particularly on what we’ve learned about their expectations and attitudes.

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Innovation on Afterburners

This year, AI has been the hottest area of technology. According to CB Insights, in the first half of 2023, investors poured $14.1 billion into generative AI companies, across 86 deals. As of August 2023, Failory tells us there were 126 AI unicorn companies globally—that is, startups that have attained a $1 billion or greater valuation. Business domains that have received the most investment include transportation, science and engineering, cyber security, health and wellness, and sales and marketing. However, we’re also seeing investments across education, retail, agriculture, sustainability, and just about everything else.

Companies have rushed many new AI-driven products and capabilities to market, often without answering essential questions such as the following:

  • How can AI help workers to be more efficient and effective rather than replacing them?
  • How can we ensure that we train AI using accurate, unbiased data?
  • How can companies and individuals protect their privacy and sensitive data when AI becomes part of virtually every digital interaction and transaction?

User Observations Reveal Clues to a Prudent Path Forward

User insights guide the most successful products, including those based on AI. At Punchcut, we recently conducted a research study to gauge when and how people want AI assistance and identify areas that warrant caution and more strategic thinking. It’s clear that, while users are excited about embracing AI, the need to mitigate a variety concerns is tempering their excitement.

The purpose of our research was to consider the general population’s perspectives on AI. We employed both quantitative and qualitative methods and surveyed more than 1000 current and potential AI consumers. Because we collected data across a broad spectrum of users—from those with higher AI maturity who work in the technology industry to those who had not used AI at all and worked in a variety of fields—our research findings reflect the many potential consumers of AI.

We asked important questions about AI and its role in assisting humans in powerful new ways, without compromising human autonomy, creativity, and productivity. These findings give UX designers clues about how best to move forward with AI in 2024.

1. The Acceleration of User Adoption in Known Areas

Understanding how people feel about their relationships with intelligent products is key to building solutions and user interfaces that meet their expectations. Users are comfortable extending AI’s influence into areas that they recognize—for example, tools they’re already using, including navigation systems, virtual assistants, and social media. But they’re cautious about AI’s potential negative impacts on society, including on security and privacy, equality, misinformation, and a lack of control or autonomy.

Fast Facts:

  • 75% recognize that they use AI for navigation.
  • 70% recognize that they use AI in virtual assistants.
  • 59% recognize AI’s role in social media.

“When I’m happy, it’s about the output [of AI]. When I’m unhappy, it’s about the broader implications on society.”—A survey respondent

What can UX designers do?

  • Double down on using AI to create seamless user interfaces that assist users with their current day-to-day activities.
  • Focus on building on familiar patterns that AI can augment—as opposed to driving radical paradigm shifts.
  • Leverage extensive analysis of user motivations to discover how users want to integrate digital assistance into their lives, while preserving their autonomy.

2. The Emotional Intelligence Clash

Conflicting views persist regarding the need for AI to have emotional intelligence. Users are unsure whether the benefits outweigh the risks. Users do like the idea of making more accurate AI-assisted decisions possible through the addition of higher-level emotional intelligence. However, such emotional intelligence could also be detrimental to human relationships and employment. The complete substitution of humans by AI would be a strong negative.

Fast Facts:

  • 25% of respondents list bias and fairness as top concerns.
  • 49% list ethical issues and less-human interactions as top concerns.
  • 76% rated the scenario of AI diagnosing health problems as either neutral or positive.

“I can use AI to facilitate my life, but not where it begins to interfere with my relationships.”—A survey respondent

What can UX designers do?

  • Establish ethical design frameworks and principles to guide and measure AI product decisions, while being open and transparent about the data we’re using for machine learning and training.
  • Enable privacy options to adjust the level of intelligence tracking, along with flexible modes of system expression and communication.
  • Consider how time affects users’ comfort levels in relationships with intelligent systems or agents, progressively demonstrating sensitivity and emotional growth over time.
  • Enable AI to free users from digital contexts to experience more tangible, physical experiences that enrich humanity.

3. The Co-Creation of Value with AI

Balancing assistance and autonomy is essential in AI-driven products. In virtually all cases, users prefer competent assistance rather than delegating complete autonomy to an AI in their digital partnerships. Creating valuable AI experiences requires our understanding individual preferences and unique contexts. Success depends on balancing users’ desire for human interaction, control, and adaptability with AI capabilities across a variety of scenarios such as creative work, transportation, recommendations, and mundane tasks.

Fast Facts:

  • Only 27% say AI will allow people to become more creative. Most respondents disagree.
  • 30% feel that the use of AI can help people to feel more fulfilled.
  • 13% say that they’re very comfortable riding in a self-driving car.
  • 25% say they’re comfortable using AI to automatically manage their calendar.

“There’s an aspect of relying on it that can be counter-creative. But, at the same time, it’s a great tool for co-creativity.”—A survey respondent

What can UX designers do?

  • When making any design decision, test for user autonomy versus empowerment. Users wouldn’t welcome technology’s replacing their individuality or ability to autonomously decide and prioritize their actions.
  • To find meaning in creation, integrate options for co-creation and control into assisted productivity experiences.
  • Pinpoint aspirational growth areas for users, delivering magical experiences that strengthen their potential. (“I wish I were a better writer.”)

4. Users’ Comfort Levels with Particular Applications of AI

Identifying what tasks and scenarios would be optimal for automation could help designers and product teams create innovative solutions that meet users’ expectations for their desired interactions with digital products.

Fast Facts:

  • Users are comfortable with AI enhancement of existing systems such as search, personalization, personal assistants, customer service, and small business management.
  • Users are only somewhat comfortable using AI in healthcare, education, creating content, and facilitating emotional connection.
  • Users are particularly uncomfortable with using AI to achieve cost-efficient system integrations, make emergency or critical decisions, and in politics, news, and military operations.

“I want AI tools to become commonplace in everyday applications. I’d like to see AI tools be implemented in email services, for example.”—A survey respondent

What can UX designers do?

  • Exercise extreme caution when designing applications that could affect people’s financial positions or critical decisions.
  • Design efficiency improvements with workers in mind to alleviate their concerns about AI replacing humans or the devaluing of human contributions.
  • When designing social, publishing, or news user interfaces, consider tools that ensure the accuracy of information.
  • Indicate any AI-generated content.

5. Users’ Concerns About AI

AI is bringing awesome new capabilities to digital products, yet users’ concerns persist about protecting sensitive data, guarding against bias, negative impacts of AI-generated errors and misinformation—which could quickly propagate across the Internet—the lack of government regulations, and the availability of AI to bad actors in the world.

Fast Facts:

  • 55% say privacy, data collection, and data sharing are their biggest concerns.
  • 52% list security vulnerabilities and the risks that are associated with AI systems as their biggest concerns.
  • 47% are concerned about job displacement.
  • 40% are concerned about dependence.

“I think that final decision points should be left for human determination…humans should make go or no-go decisions.”—A survey respondent

What can UX designers do?

  • Build trust by ensuring that the collection of user data happens only with users’ explicit consent.
  • Be extremely cautious about preventing AI-driven user interfaces from profiling users or behaving with bias toward them.
  • Ensure that applications and user interfaces respect users’ privacy and individual user preferences, and utilize surveillance technologies only with users’ explicit permission.

Managing AI Risks and Rewards

Users have mixed perspectives on AI and its role in their lives. While they are excited about the potential benefits and convenience that AI can bring, they also have concerns about its impact on privacy, security, employment, and human autonomy. UX designers are playing a crucial role in navigating the AI landscape and ensuring that we utilize AI in ways that align with users’ needs and values, including designing for seamless user experiences, addressing ethical considerations, co-creating value with AI, identifying the right applications of AI to ensure users’ comfort levels, and addressing on-going user concerns.

By conducting thorough user research and prioritizing users’ perspectives, UX designers can help create AI-driven products that truly add value to users’ lives. AI—both in its current form and in new and future iterations—can provide wildly powerful tools for businesses. The more organizations use and adopt AI, the better and more reliable it will become. Embracing AI is now a business imperative. So how can companies adopt AI while staying focused on creating real value for people? Product teams must ask the right questions. Thus, methodical, deliberate, and focused user research will lead to the more meaningful use of AI. 

Download the findings from the research study that our team at Punchcut recently conducted.


CB Insights. “The State of Generative AI in 7 Charts.” CB Insights, August 2, 2023.

Failory. “Top 126 Artificial Intelligence Unicorn Companies in 2023.” Failory, August 24, 2023.

Managing Partner at Punchcut

San Francisco, California, USA

Ken OlewilerKen was a co-founder of Punchcut and has driven the company’s vision, strategy, and creative direction for over 20 years—from the company’s inception as the first mobile-design consultancy to its position today as a design accelerator for business growth and transformation. Punchcut works with many of the world’s top companies—including Samsung, LG, Disney, Nissan, and Google—to envision and design transformative product experiences in wearables, smart home Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, and extended reality (XR). As a UX leader and entrepreneur, Ken is a passionate advocate for a human-centered approach to design and business. He believes that design is all about shaping human’s relationships with products in ways that create sustainable value for people and businesses. He studied communication design at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.  Read More

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