New research by Google shows that search interest in artificial intelligence (AI) increased by 370% over the last year, as 91% of South Africa thinks life with AI will look different five years from now.

Searches for AI reached an all-time high last year in South Africa – increasing 370% since 2022, and 650% over the last five years. Top searched questions included “what is artificial intelligence” and “how to use AI”, while searches for “what is the current situation of AI” and “what is generative AI” increased by over 5 000%.

The trends data, released today, complements Google’s new AI global survey, “Our Life with AI: The reality of today and the promise of tomorrow”, which found that 91% of South African respondents feel peoples’ daily life will look different five years from now because of AI.

Respondents from South Africa also reported that AI was already having an impact on the way we access information (81%), learn (78%) and work (72%). Sixty percent of South African respondents were excited about the possibilities of AI.

Asked where AI will be most likely to have a positive impact in the next five years, South African respondents chose the accuracy of medical diagnoses and the effectiveness of the school curriculum (both 73%). Eighty-two percent feel AI will have a positive impact on their ability to understand complex topics, while 79% think it will benefit the way they learn.

South Africans feel that AI will benefit society as a whole (76%) and people like them (69%). Sixty-three percent feel that South Africa will be able to harness the potential of AI over the next five years; and 95% felt that AI will change most jobs and industries over the next five years. And 83% predicted that it will change the economy.

When asked which institutions they have confidence in to oversee the development of AI in the best interests of the public, South Africa favoured technology companies (90%) and academic institutions (85%) over the government (50%) and armed forces (61%).

But their preferred approach was collaborative: 91% of respondents felt that the government and technology companies should work together to educate students and workers about AI, while 88% wanted the same collaboration to ensure everyone is able to benefit from AI advancements. Only 34% felt we should completely pause the use and development of AI.

Matt Brittin, president of Google Europe, the Middle East and Africa, comments: “It’s great to see people in South Africa showing such a keen interest in the potential of AI as a transformative technology.

“People across the world are benefitting from responsibly developed AI tools every day – but it’s important that we get this right. We’re committed to working boldly, responsibly and together with governments across Europe to maximise the potential of AI, make sure everyone can benefit from it, and minimise its abuse.”

“Our Life with AI: The reality of today and the promise of tomorrow” was conducted by Ipsos between 19 October and 6 November 2023, on behalf of Google. Survey samples of roughly 1 000 adults 18+ representative of the online population of each in Brazil, India, Mexico, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates were interviewed using Ipsos online panels.