Digital Economy Dispatch #186 -- Exploring the AI Divide: A Tale of Two Studies

Digital Economy Dispatch #186 -- Exploring the AI Divide: A Tale of Two Studies
2nd June 2024

Am I part of the problem or part of the solution? It is a question I have had to ask myself at several points in my career. Typically when there were major shifts taking place that made me reconsider some of the fundamental ways in which I viewed the world around me. Had my ways of thinking and working become obsolete?

For those of us from a software engineering background, the move to object-oriented development did that. So did Agile software delivery. In both cases, they moved the focus of how I understood my domain of interest, changed the boundaries of what I thought was relevant, and offered me a different perspective on how to prioritize my time and effort.

But that didn’t happen easily or quickly. It takes time to build enough insight and experience with the new way of thinking to gain sufficient confidence that you’re able to move forward. A period when gaps appeared between those now firmly in the new world and those still clinging to the past (anyone remember “Who Moved My Cheese?”). In those times it is unsurprising that we question whether we’re a help or a hinderance to the people around us.

The growing adoption of AI looks like it will be another of those uncomfortable times. The integration of AI into many aspects of daily life is disruptive. It fundamentally challenges how we view the world. This unease stems from several sources grounded in the realization that AI blurs the boundaries between human and machine capabilities, threatening traditional notions of employment, creativity, and privacy.

One of my biggest fears about AI centres on the concern that it will widen the gap between technology-savvy individuals who are already adopting AI and the broad majority who are either unaware of or unable to take full advantage of it. Those with the knowledge and resources to harness AI are poised to gain significant benefits, such as increased efficiency, enhanced productivity, and new economic opportunities. The leaders are leaping ahead.

In contrast, the larger portion of the population, which may lack awareness, understanding, or access to these advanced technologies, risk being left behind. This disparity creates a growing divide where a tech-savvy minority drives forward with AI innovations, while the majority struggles to keep pace, missing out on the transformative potential of AI. This situation exacerbates existing inequalities and poses challenges for societal cohesion, as the benefits of AI become increasingly concentrated among those already well-equipped to leverage its power.

It is a concern that was highlighted very clearly for me when looking at the results of 2 new major studies on the use of AI. They reported their results almost exactly at the same time. Yet, their perspective and conclusion about the adoption of AI could not be further apart. One looks at the use of AI in the workplace and concludes that it is rapidly becoming deployed, creating pressure to accelerate transformation to the new ways of working. The other considers the broader public attitude to AI, highlighting a considerable lack of awareness and very limited meaningful adoption.

AI in the Workplace

The first is the latest Microsoft Work Trends report published at the beginning of May 2024. To assess AI adoption in the workplace, Microsoft and LinkedIn conducted extensive research involving 31,000 people from 31 countries, analyzing hiring trends and productivity data. Their findings provide essential insights and actionable steps for leaders and professionals to navigate the evolving landscape of AI in the workplace. It concludes that in 2024 the use of generative AI in the workplace has surged, with 75% of global knowledge workers now utilizing it, and continued rapid adoption. The challenge they see is how to move faster. Despite the recognition of AI as a crucial business tool, many leaders feel unprepared to transition from individual AI use to leveraging it for significant business transformation. The pressure to demonstrate immediate ROI has left many leaders hesitant, even as the integration of AI becomes increasingly inevitable. This mirrors past tech disruptions I have experienced where widespread adoption was necessary for substantive business transformation, such as with the internet and personal computers. The report encourages companies to focus on integrating AI to boost growth, manage costs, and enhance customer value to gain a competitive edge.

Simultaneously, the report points out that labour market is poised for another shift driven by AI. While there are concerns about job losses, its analysis concludes that many leaders report a shortage of talent for essential roles, and AI proficiency is becoming as crucial as experience. This trend suggests that AI will not only elevate job standards but also offer new career opportunities.

AI at Large

An online survey conducted by Richard Fletcher and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen of the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute at the end of May 2024 received over two thousand responses from each of six countries (Argentina, Denmark, France, Japan, the UK, and the USA). It aimed to understand public usage and perceptions of generative AI in journalism and other areas. The survey revealed that ChatGPT is the most recognized and widely used generative AI tool, with about 50% of the online population in these countries aware of it. However, frequent usage remains low, with daily use ranging from 1% in Japan to 7% in the USA. Most users have only engaged with generative AI tools once or twice, indicating that these technologies have not yet become part of routine internet use.

The survey also highlighted several key insights: a significant minority (20%-30%) of the online population in these countries are unaware of popular AI tools. ChatGPT's usage far exceeds that of other generative AI products like Google Gemini and Microsoft Copilot. Younger individuals (18-24) are significantly more likely to use generative AI regularly compared to those aged 55 and over. Usage for obtaining information (24%) is almost as common as for creating various media (28%), but only 5% have used generative AI to get the latest news. These findings underscore the relatively low levels of engagement and familiarity with generative AI across different demographics and regions.

The AI Divide: The Challenge and Opportunity for Digital Leaders

The contrasting results from these two studies reveal a critical challenge for all of us: the emergence of an "AI divide." While some segments of the workforce are actively embracing AI tools, a significant portion of the population remains unaware or hesitant to engage. This disparity presents both challenges and opportunities.


  • Uneven Talent Distribution: The talent shortage highlighted in the workplace study could be exacerbated by a lack of AI awareness among the broader population. Growing an AI-savvy workforce may not be as straightforward as many had hoped. Leaders may struggle to find individuals with the necessary skills to navigate the evolving AI landscape.

  • Social Inequality: The AI divide risks widening existing social inequalities. Those with access to and knowledge of AI tools will be better positioned to reap the benefits, while others may be left behind. This could lead to increasing social tension and hinder societal progress.


  • Closing the Knowledge Gap: Organizations can distinguish themselves if they can bridge the AI divide by investing in educational programs to raise public awareness and understanding of AI capabilities and limitations.

  • Building Trust and Transparency: Leadership in AI requires increased transparency about how AI is being used within organizations and demands an active approach to address public concerns about privacy and bias.

  • Democratizing AI Tools: Wide sections of the public have still not found ways to use AI. Developing user-friendly and accessible AI tools can encourage broader adoption and participation in the AI revolution.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Living through times of significant digital disruption creates discomfort and uncertainty for all of us. The rise of AI, like past technological advancements, is disrupting established norms and widening the gulf between communities. Understanding and addressing this gap is important for everyone. By addressing the AI divide, digital leaders can ensure that AI serves as a force for positive change, empowering individuals and driving inclusive economic growth. The key lies in fostering a future where everyone has the opportunity to leverage the power of AI, not just the tech-savvy few. This requires a proactive approach that combines technological innovation with education, transparency, and inclusivity.