Six weeks ago in Davos, we launched the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer, which found that by a nearly two-to-one margin, citizens across 28 markets believe that innovation is being badly managed. Respondents were concerned that government regulation was lagging behind the rapid pace of invention and that business was failing to consider the potential impact on employment or concerns about privacy or lifestyle. This prompted us to suggest that innovation was becoming the fourth log on the populist fire, on top of lack of trust in government, the dispersion of authority to include peers on par with experts, and the mass-class divide on trust in institutions.

I have just returned from four days in San Francisco and Seattle where I provided further detail on the risks to the technology industry of a head-long jump into Artificial Intelligence. I told clients that the pandemic had further weakened the institutional framework of trust, with a politicization of innovation based on rejection of the MRNA vaccine. I asserted that fears about change in status or quality of life are at fever pitch. Most importantly I told them that acceptance of innovation cannot be taken for granted, that we must spend much more of our time on adaptation and education, not just on research and development.

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Here are the important findings from our technology study:

  1. High Trust in Technology Sector Does Not Translate into Trust in AI—There is a 26-point gap between trust in the tech industry (76 percent) and AI at 50 percent.
  2. Technology Is Losing Its Lead Position Among Industries in Trust—Eight years ago, technology was the leading industry in trust in 90 percent of the countries we track. Now it is most trusted only in half.
  3. Tech Trust Remains Strong in Developing Markets, Waning in Developed—There is a marked deterioration of trust in the tech industry among the U.S. and UK over the past five years, from around 70 percent trust to about 60 percent.
  4. The Right Rejects Innovation—53 percent of right-leaning Americans reject innovations, averaged across green energy, gene-based medicines such as MRNA vaccines, AI and GMO foods, versus 12 percent of Americans on the left. This is consistent with other developed markets such as Australia, Canada and Germany.
  5. Republicans and Democrats Reject AI—58 percent of Republicans reject AI versus 15 percent who accept it, while 45 percent of Democrats reject AI and 25 percent accept it. More Republicans reject AI than reject gene-based medicine such as the MRNA vaccine (58 percent vs. 51 percent), a truly stunning finding.
  6. Neither Democrats nor Republicans Trust AI—Democrats trust in AI technology is 38 percent, Independents 25 percent, Republicans 24 percent. There is a 30-point gap between trust in tech companies and trust in AI technology for both Democrats and Republicans (D 66 vs. 38, R 55 vs. 24) 
  7. Trust in AI Companies Declining—Globally, trust has declined in AI companies over the past five years from 61 percent to 53 percent. In the U.S., there has been a 15-point drop from 50 percent to 35 percent.
  8. Resistance to AI Nearly 20 Points Higher in Developed Markets vs Developing—By nearly a three-to-one or more margin, respondents in France, Canada, Ireland, UK, U.S., Germany, Australia, and the Netherlands reject the growing use of AI rather than embrace it. That contrasts to developing markets such as Saudi Arabia, India, China, Kenya, Nigeria and Thailand where acceptance is around two-to-one over resistance. 
  9. Resistance to AI is Not Tied to Future Job Loss—Among those who feel less than enthusiastic about the growing use of AI, only 22 percent of global respondents cite AI’s impact on job security as a reason. The key concerns are privacy (39 percent), potential devaluation of what it means to be human (36 percent), and possible harm to people (35 percent). Americans are much more likely to cite reasons like potential harm to society (61 percent), privacy concerns (52 percent) and lack of adequate testing and evaluation (54 percent).
  10. The Path to Acceptance is Explaining the Benefits for Citizens and for Society—Respondents who are less than enthusiastic about the growing use of AI told us that they would feel better about it if they understood the technology better, they were sure that business would thoroughly test AI and they knew that those adversely affected would be considered.

The Trust Barometer insights provide an important storm watch advisory to the technology industry. Citizens who have been adversely affected by globalization or changing advice during the pandemic are skeptical about promised innovations. This is the moment for the technology sector to earn its position as the most trusted industry by making change that is understandable to all.

Richard Edelman is CEO.

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