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What Does Artificial Intelligence Mean to Gen Z and Millennials?

While Gen Z and Millennials seem to be most knowledgeable about AI, this is what actually comes to mind when they hear “artificial intelligence”…


  • Gen Z and Millennials think of many things when they hear “AI,” but bots / robots are the number one thing coming to mind
  • Of course, ChatGPT is high on their list, with its news presence and their own familiarity with it
  • Many think first of its capability to complete human tasks, but the variation of what this can mean is why it’s important for brands to be transparent about their AI integrations

With how quickly artificial intelligence appears to have developed in just the last six months—spurred on by the public availability of OpenAI’s ChatGPT—it’s still hard to say exactly how many people perceive this tech. And while young people appear to have been the quickest to adopt AI into their regular lives, that doesn’t mean that they all think of it, or use it, the same way. In fact, there’s still a broad variance in exactly what young people first think when they hear “AI,” no matter how normal it seems to become. 

In YPulse’s AI Unpacked trend report, we ask young people how much they know about artificial intelligence. Overall, 42% of Gen Z and Millennials still say they have little to no knowledge about AI—which may come as a big surprise to many brands. Everyone is throwing the term AI out into their marketing and products, but there isn’t a consensus amongst young consumers of what that means when they first hear it. And for brands who want to use AI to draw them in, it’s key to know what young people are thinking when they hear “AI,” and what the implication of that understanding is.  

In order to gauge how young people currently perceive the idea of AI without swaying their response by giving them options, we ask 13-39-year-olds, “What is the first thing you think of when you hear the term “AI” (a.k.a Artificial Intelligence)” as an open-ended question. These are their top responses, in their exact words: 

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the term “AI” (a.k.a Artificial Intelligence)? 


  1. A bot / robot 
  2. Computer / Supercomputer 
  3. ChatGPT 
  4. AI (Artificial Intelligence) 
  5. Technology 
  6. A potential replacement for human in various aspects of life (e.g. workforce, decision-making, etc.) 
  7. Advanced / New / Latest technology 
  8. Something with potential to be misused  
  9. Smart 
  10. Smart assistants developed to perform / automate repetitive or time-consuming tasks 
  11. AI-generated artworks / images / photos / writing 
  12. Future / Futuristic 
  13. A chatbot 

Young consumers think bots and robots when they think of artificial intelligence 

Though AI is rapidly becoming the norm for Gen Z and Millennials—just as we predicted it would—the first thing that comes to mind for them is still bots and robots. And can we really blame them? For a long time, the only pop culture references to artificial intelligence came from cautionary tales of robots replacing humans. Case in point, one 28-year-old female tells us when they hear AI, “I think of robot movies because that’s immediately what I’ve been trained to think of thanks to those movies. AI-related movies were my introduction to that space.” Many others mentioned that Hollywood informed their concept of intelligent tech, leading them to an association with robots.  

But more generally, their understanding of AI as robots also comes from what one 19-year-old female puts as: “Because a robot is a programmed intelligence.” Another 36-year-old male says they think of robots because of the tech “being able to act without explicit instructions,” which shows that the labels of bot / robot do point to an understanding of what AI really is. Though it has seldom been acknowledged that AI was already part of their everyday life before viral chatbots and filters through tech like Siri and Alexa, face scanning to unlock their phones, and even something as simple as navigation apps (which notably, many do not think of as AI), these gens quickly made themselves familiar with the basics of this tech. And of course, many are now frequent users of the most recognizable AI today…  

ChatGPT is top of mind for many young people when talking about AI 

With the way ChatGPT’s online presence has revolutionized the perception of AI, it’s a top response young people say they think of when they hear “AI.” In fact, when we present them with a list of technology and ask which they think are AI, chatbots are their third most popular answer, with “A website writing something for you (e.g. ChatGPT, etc.)” nearly tied. When it comes to their open-ended answers, though, a significant number of respondents tell YPulse ChatGPT is the first thing they think of because “It is what has been in the news the most lately,” as one 38-year-old female puts it.  

Others think beyond its current popularity and say it first comes to mind because of how advanced ChatGPT is, and how much it’s changing the landscape of their lives. Our data shows that 45% of young consumers have used a chatbot before, with young males +14pts more likely to say so, and the top one they say they’ve used is of course ChatGPT. One 18-year-old male says “AI” makes them first think of ChatGPT and its parent company OpenAI “because I feel that they have the most advanced AI language model.” And another 21-year-old male thinks fo ChatGPT because, “of all the AI that has directly impacted my life, ChatGPT has had the most profound impact,” showing how young people have quickly become adept at using the program, and how much they believe the tech is capable of.   

Young people think of AI’s potential use for completing human tasks 

Several of young consumers’ top answers to what they first think of when hearing “AI” has to do with its capabilities, beyond just what kind of tech or bot it really is. Their sixth most popular answer relates to AI as “A potential replacement for humans in various aspects of life (e.g. workforce, decision-making, etc.),” which they described in wide variety of ways. Some mention it’s capability to complete human tasks more efficiently, like one 29-year-old female who says they think of “replacing manpower [when I hear “AI” because] it has the potential to do almost [any] activity humans do, in a shorter period of time.” Others, however, see it as even more powerful than simple tasks, like a 30-year-old male who says, “[I think of] a robotic system that will replace human’s mind in the future [because] they created AI on the purpose of helping them to do their job, so eventually it will start learning and developing itself.”  

And even though many share the thought that an AI takeover (in some form) could be in the future, these gens largely feel positively about the tech right now. In fact, the most popular responses when we ask how they feel about artificial intelligence in general are “excited” and “hopeful.” But of course, not all responses about their perception of AI were purely positive, especially in the category of answers pertaining to replacement of human tasks. One 22-year-old female says, “I think of a type of technology that will revolutionize what we know today. I think it’s fascinating but scary. I’m a little worried and scared because AI has the capability of taking over jobs and careers all over the world.”  

Knowing how AI is perceived is key to successful integrations 

At large, young people understand AI as tech that can think on its own, and its ability to do work for humans is certainly something they’re thinking about. And of course, the popular chatbots are top of mind, even if some find their level of intellect frightening. Ultimately, our data shows 65% agree they see AI as something that will become an essential part of their everyday lives—that is, of course, if it isn’t already. So, it’s important for brands to understand how young people perceive AI as it’s being marketed to them and integrated into their lives—and brands might consider making transparency and education about artificial intelligence part of their priorities.