Trust has been teetering and, frankly, declining in many countries across various industries. In no small part, this is due to illicit though perhaps not illegal manipulation of social media platforms to sway public opinion. But no less worrisome are cyberattacks that result in the release of the personal information of millions and growing concerns about the effects of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) on the future of work.
In the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer: Technology we had a keen interest in understanding how the general population views automation generally and AI specifically. Trust in technology holds up quite well among the general population, with 75 percent holding an overall favorable view of the sector. This represents only a one-point decline from the previous year, which is remarkable given the overall backdrop of global events.
But that overall number belies another, which is that trust in technology among the general population declined in 18 of the 28 countries surveyed. In major economies including the U.S. and Germany, there was essentially no change in trust, but in several others there were significant changes, such as Poland (+10 percentage points) and Hong Kong (-10 percentage points). However, asking this question of the informed public revealed a startling decline in trust in technology within EU countries and the U.S. Trust in the sector declined by 19 points in the U.S., 18 points in France and 9 points in Germany.
Regarding automation, the feeling among respondents is that technology companies need to help with employees who could be displaced. A full 76 percent of respondents agreed that technology companies should be doing more to help regular people affected by automation or other technological innovations. This perception is highest in several of the BRIC countries considered to be newly advancing economies, including Brazil, China and India. The percentage of those with this view was noticeably but not substantially lower in more developed economies, including the U.K., U.S. and Canada. While not explicitly part of the survey, ideas often discussed range from retraining programs to the need to provide a guaranteed minimum income if there are no longer enough jobs to go around due to automation.
Although the hype around AI is likely near its peak of the hype cycle, the technology is still in its early days. According to a recent study from McKinsey Global Institute, only 20 percent of companies are using one or more AI technologies at scale or in a core part of their business. However, another recent poll of IT professionals showed that 61 percent of respondents said that machine learning and AI are their companies’ most significant data initiatives for 2018. The difference is significant and demonstrates the potential imminent impact of AI technologies.
Consequently, we added a question to the 2018 Trust Barometer: Technology study to ask specifically about trust in AI. Overall, trust in institutions applying AI sits barely in neutral territory at 56 percent. Perhaps that is better than what might be expected when leaders ranging from Elon Musk to Stephen Hawking have famously warned about the potential existential threat to humanity from general AI. Those worries are better reflected in the breakout by country that shows trust in AI lowest in the most-developed markets ranging from Canada to Sweden to Germany to the U.K., where trust is below 50 percent.
We will be monitoring views on trust in AI closely in the years to come.
Gary Grossman is a senior vice president, Portland.