AI & Gen Z: huge potential or a dangerous combination?

June 21, 2023

Assuming you hadn't been living under a rock for the past few years, A LOT has happened. A global pandemic, political unrests, another financial crisis and we are not even going to start talking about the impact all this had on people’s (our) mental health… What's more, and in case you were "bored from lack of events", AI shook our worlds. Society knew technological developments of this sort were an inevitable part of the future but we all, somewhat, somehow, still expected that it would happen a bit further down the line. 

In other words, since 2019 we experienced an inprecedented historical moment. Everything felt like it stopped, and then suddenly it restarted ... with a completely different pace. If we took a moment to reflect on it - it is truly mind-blowing to grasp the huge, forceful pause and the fact that we stumbled out of it into a totally new era. Ain't that something…!

Today, on top of our recent experiences we have AI everywhere. It's been the highlight for months and no doubt it will continue to be so for a while. I am certain that casually raising it in a friendly conversation has already happened to you too. Suddenly there are heated discussions in our personal lives and all around with thousands of opinions and feelings about what it means.

It is fair to say that, at the beginning of its introduction, people were actually somewhat fond of the possibilities that technology presents. It's been in the making for decades and our collective impressions were that this can enhance enormously and even enlighten our lives and overall work.

Yet, as times went by we started to become weary that technology can overtake day-to-day activities to such an extent that certain professions might become entirely obsolete. Such thoughts resulted in a quiet panic and definitive resistance in many.

Meanwhile, for someone like myself, a content creator in her early 20s, fresh out of school, being an observer of this, monumental in many respects transition period, is once in a lifetime experience. In a matter of days, the job offers for freelance content writers changed from:

“Looking for a content writer to write about…” to “Looking for a content writer to rewrite articles by ChatGPT”.

The news about the war in Ukraine were replaced by interviews with AI experts and predictions around its implications. Students regularly started confessing that they passed exams thanks to AI. Even breakup text messages were now generated by artificial “intelligence”.

THOUSANDS of articles, reports and interviews with titles such as: “Is AI ruining our educational system?”
“AI - the beginning of massive unemployment crisis”, etc. - flood the online space.

We are interested in all different perspectives and sympathize with the worries of people, yet as a company that employees Gen Z, we were curious about something very specific.

Robot giving flower to girl. Pexels photograpy: danilyuk

How those developments affect the ones that are just entering the “grown-up” world and represent the “fresh blood” of our workforce and society in general? The very same generation that is famous for its appreciation of technology, its open-mindedness and its attention to mental-health. Would they prefer to interact with an AI bot to share their problems and brainstorm solutions instead of living beings? What does the future look like through their eyes?

We conducted our own research with a survey questionnaire, focused on representatives of Generation Z in Bulgaria. The data we collected was intriguing. It showed us Gen Z’s unique perspective on the potential of AI technology. One that is both optimistic and realistic.

Most people are under the impression that the younger generations don’t understand the serious impact of AI. And let me tell you, as a Gen Z representative myself, even though our initial implementations of AI seem irresponsible for many, we understand the risks and the tremendous effect it might have. Yet, our focus is STILL on the bright side of possibilities. One might say this is naiveté. Others – a useful mindset. I’d settle for a “useful mindset that’s looking for solutions and opportunities rather than problems alone."

Let’s look at some statistics. We had a sample of 30 students (between 17 and 19 years old) who anonymously filled out a survey on their devices.

The results reveal that:
55.2% of the respondents feel confused or stressed out by the fast development of AI while a solid
42.4% feel very excited or happy about the newfound ease with which things can be done.
The remaining 2.4% defined their feelings as: "optimistically anxious".

In other words, we have a faily even distribution of perceptions. Optimism and fear coexist.

How do we explain the combination?

While AI and new capabilities enter various sectors and life segments, Gen-Z is facing critical life choices such as: “What university degree should I pursue?” or “What career path makes sense to me?”. The digital enhancements through in a curve ball in the very fabric of their entire futures. On top of those vital questions, those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s, also ask themselves “Which sector would be safe in the long run?”; “What professions will still exists in only 5 years’ time?”

It's genuinely hard (if not impossible) to keep up with the pace of tech developments, so having to make those life decisions becomes twice harder. Predicting what the world would look like is out of reach like never before.

"Yes, we are confused and worried. But also, a little bit excited." - says one of the respondents.

You may think that we are haunted by the thought of AI becoming too “human alike”, but that’s not the case.

68% of the participants in our survey don’t believe at all that AI would be able to develop empathy, sympathy or other important emotional abilities and qualities. According to a previous research on Gen-Z, that you can access here - The place of coaching among Gen-Z - we are the generation that strongly appreciates such virtues. In other words, we are looking for “the real deal” of connection and meaningful contact more than previous generations.

Millennials and Gen X had much different priorities that included financial stability, success and their “go get attitude” is a trademark. We are slightly different in our outlook of what is important.  

Even though 39% of the questioned believe the development of AI in psychology and life coaching is possible, 85.7% wouldn't have an AI ran device/ robot for their own psychologist or a life coach.

We asked our respondents “why” and some of the thoughts are below.

“I do not expect to face real empathy or sympathy in the face of an AI-generated psychologist.”
“Empathy, emotions and feelings are exactly what separates humans from just a bot.”
“I don’t think any AI could teach us about life since it could never experience it on its own”
Robot & Girl, having wine. Pexels photograpy: danilyuk

To summarize Generation Z’s perspective:

We truly value what’s real. We cherish the raw emotion and the unique mind. AI lacks the capacity to understand the complexity of human conundrums and beautiful disharmonies.  And even if it does someday, it will still lack the ability to experience it first-hand.

We are not afraid of the future - instead, we are willing to embrace the unknown and use innovation to make it work for ourselves. We see the future world - full of cutting-edge technology and we are happy to push back on the doubt and fears that could cloud the process of development. What would all this bring, I cannot predict.

Many say that it is in our hands to build what we wish to see and that is perhaps one of the greatest challneges we'll ever face. However, one thing I am certain of - Gen Z will stay true to their/ our nature - always treasuring what’s honest, down to Earth and meaningfully real.

Yours truly,
Viktoria Vechernikova

Content writer and social media account owner
for ILC International

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