Digital Pulse 2017: Which Europeans are most open to trying new technologies?

Would you sit in a driverless car? Or let a robot take care of your elderly parents?

Technologically, these things are already possible. You can witness many exciting, surprising and sometimes quirky examples at this week's CeBIT in Germany, one of the world's biggest technology conferences.

There is, however, an important lesson we learned at Nesta when testing how new technology could be integrated into our daily lives; from our healthcare system to democratic and political engagement, the availability of new technology itself is not enough, people need to be confident and willing to use it.

That's why we set out to answer an important question: how ready are Brits, and other Europeans, for the digital life?

Our new Digital Pulse reports reveal what we found after surveying 9,000 adults from the UK and eight other European countries. In particular, we wanted to understand how open the public was to using various new opportunities that are currently taking the centre stage in media, political and business discussions: new 'everyday' technology (e.g. driverless cars), the sharing economy and robotics.

Here are three key findings that you should know about:

1. Bulgarians are most open to new technologies, while people in the UK are more sceptical than many of their European neighbours

In European comparison, Bulgarians are most open to trying new technologies, while Germans are most sceptical. UK adults fall in the middle. This surprised us. Countries like the UK and Germany host some of the best breeding grounds to start and scale technology businesses. Yet, the general public in these countries doesn’t necessarily share the same enthusiasm for new technologies.

2. In the UK, only a minority of adults are open to using many new technologies. But there are some surprising exceptions

A minority of UK adults would be willing to, for example, sit in a driverless car or replace cash completely with digital payment methods.

Even when it comes to participating in the sharing economy - which is relatively easy and accessible compared to other technologies we tested - fewer UK adults have ever used online platforms to book a ride or accommodation than other Europeans.

We also asked how open people would be to not just using commercial digital platforms, but also to sharing their own resources - their house, ride or cash - online with others.

The majority of the UK public would not be happy to do this, though the same is true for most other European countries.

However, the UK public is a lot more open to integrating robotics into their lives. We found it rather surprising that more Brits would be willing to let a robot take care of a family member than share a ride with a stranger

3. Men, people under 35, university graduates, and Londoners tend to be significantly more open than the rest of the country

Openness to new technologies differs quite significantly across British society. We tested a range of demographic factors: age, gender, education, income, and whether people live in urban or rural areas.

While the most significant demographic differences changed from country to country, the UK was one of the only countries where we found significant divides across all demographics.

So what?

This research is just the start of the conversation. Through Readie, our European policy centre, we work with governments and businesses from across Europe to help them make sense of the challenges and harness the opportunities of the digital transformation.

Digital technology is creating many opportunities for people and businesses. With its new digital strategy, the UK government has commited to turning the country into a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone. However, the majority of the UK public is not quite ready.

We found that 64 per cent of UK adults agree to being excited about the future and the opportunities that new technology is bringing to society. This is the second lowest score of the nine countries we studied - and much lower than in countries like Germany (72 per cent) or Bulgaria (88 per cent).

How ready the public is for the digital transformation is a question the policy and business community has to pay attention to. The political events of 2016 have certainly shown that ignoring the pulse running through society can lead to a heavy and unforeseen backlash.

In our research, we have also identified a number of underlying issues that need to be tackled - which we will share in our upcoming blog next Wednesday. If you cannot wait until then, have a look at the report...


Valerie Mocker

Valerie Mocker

Valerie Mocker

Director, Development & European Digital Policy

Valerie and her team focused on helping policy makers, corporates, entrepreneurs and society make the most of the digital transformation.

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