Scots optimistic about societal and economic benefits of new technologies despite concerns

A new survey sponsored by the SPA has found broad optimism across the Scottish adult population towards the impacts that new technologies will have on the future of Scotland

A NEW Understanding Scotland survey sponsored by the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) has found broad optimism across the Scottish adult population towards the impacts that new technologies will have on Scotland’s future, people, economy, and public services.

However, the independent survey found that while still positive, optimism in Scotland had decreased since the questions were last asked in January 2020.  The previous UK-wide polling from 2020 found that people in Scotland were more optimistic than their English counterparts about the impacts of new technologies on public services and communities with 61% of the Scottish public believing that change is a good thing compared to 53% of the UK overall. 

According to the poll, there is clear support from Scottish citizens for using new technology in tackling crime:

  • 86% supported using new technologies to track suspected criminals’ movements
  • 81% supported using new technologies to tackle abusive interactions on social media
  • 93% supported using new technologies in tracing missing people
  • 73% supported using new technologies for the policing of large crowds

The survey found that older people are overall more supportive of using new technologies for policing; with 81% of those over 65 years of age supportive of the use of new technologies for uses such as the policing of large crowds, for example, compared to 50% among those aged 16-34.

However, respondents were concerned about the impact new technologies may have on personal privacy, with 87% concerned that their personal information may be shared without their knowledge and 77% worried about governments gathering data on them without their knowledge.  

Commenting on the results, Martyn Evans, Chair of the SPA, said: “Technology has an impact on everybody’s daily lives and emerging technologies can provide new opportunities for keeping the people of Scotland safe. The support this survey highlights for using technology in tackling crime is encouraging. However, it is important that any concerns this technology may bring regarding privacy and potential impact on our rights are addressed through openness, consultation, local engagement and continual review of any deployment.”

Although respondents can see clear and considerable benefits for public services from technological innovation, there are also concerns around new forms of technology, with 64% of those expressing an opinion thinking that a lot of people working to deliver public services would lose their jobs owing to new technology.

When it comes to regulating these new forms of technology, there is a clear role for both the Scottish and UK governments in the eyes of the public, as 67% and 56% respectively believe that they should be responsible for mitigating against potentially harmful uses of new forms of technology.

Mark Diffley, founder and director of the Diffley Partnership, which conducted the research, said: “These findings point to optimism about technological innovation, but this is waning and tempered with caution. While people in Scotland broadly believe new forms of technology will bring economic and societal benefits, it is less clear how – or indeed, whether – they will benefit the majority of people in Scotland, and there are real concerns around data privacy. There is therefore an evident and important role for Governments in Scotland and Westminster in communicating the benefits of these new forms of technology, in ensuring these are shared equitably, and in regulating against their misuse.”

The findings are part of Understanding Scotland, a new regular survey instrument that seeks to measure and monitor public attitudes and expectations in Scotland, with a view to informing policymakers and decision-makers in all sectors of society more systematically. The report on attitudes to technology can be read here and previous reports on society, wellbeing and the economy can be found here.

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