Trust in Technology

The year 2017 may be remembered as the year that the confluence of technology, media and journalism began to separate after years of being conflated, converged and at times confused for one another. It was a year that highlighted the fissures that appear when filter bubbles are not penetrated and the vulnerability of societies in a technological age.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer found that the fear of “fake news” being used as a weapon was on the minds of seven in 10 respondents in the general population, revealing a deep concern about how the public gets its news, who creates it and what it is.

As we looked at the societal and economic concerns of people around the globe, we found that even in this climate of distrust, technology is still the most trusted of all business sectors. But there are ripples of change that bear paying attention to:

  1. Trust in technology is showing precipitous decline: Across the world, trust in technology declined among the informed public, from the U.S. (-19 pts) to Hong Kong (-14 pts) to Germany (-9 pts) to France (-18 pts), overall showing a drop in 16 of 28 markets surveyed.
  2. Among the general population, trust in technology is strong, but there is less confidence in the next wave of innovation: Trust maintained its pole position as the most trusted business sector at 75 percent, but the emerging technology and products that form the foundation of future business are far less trusted. Whether it be blockchain at just under 50 percent, self-driving vehicles right at 50 percent or artificial intelligence at just 56 percent, these technology subsectors command less confidence than the technology of today. Many of these technologies are not well understood and ill-defined, suggesting an opportunity to clarify both their value and exactly what they are.
  3. Tech is not actively building trust: Whether it is heightening concern over how consumer data is handled (-18 pts) or increased doubt as to whether tech companies are adequately transparent in how they operate (-15 pts), technology is trending downward in key behaviors. Perhaps most tellingly, only 64 percent believe technology is contributing to the greater good.

Although these findings are not cataclysmic, taken collectively they present a picture of an industry in flux, and one that to maintain its growth must tend to these downward trends. Core among the activities where tech can make a difference—and is well equipped to do so—is fostering the development of contemporary education systems that prepare people for the necessary emerging skills. It also must re-train a workforce that may find their jobs changed due to automation or other innovations. It is the proliferation of automation, be it driverless cars, complex assembly lines, or workforce simplification that most concerns the general public. All of these changes may be assuaged by a concerted attempt to think through and prepare for an automated future.

Tech has been the greatest generator of wealth and transformation for the last quarter century, but what many perceive as a massive disparity of wealth and the lack of consideration of the impact of innovation are heightening fears and disillusionment. The tension in the system should not be ignored. Just as the #MeToo movement showed how rapidly systems can change and crumble, tech is not immune. The industry needs to be cognizant that with its exponential reach, it is highly vulnerable.

Yet there are multiple ways for tech to lead, all of which are well within grasp. Tech needs to think through and protect against the negative impacts of innovation. Recognizing the negative allows you to prepare for its inevitability and show your concern for society. Tech must invest in its employees, as they are the best spokespeople and, in success, will spread the gospel of your value. Lastly, tech must allow the world to see behind the screen and be the leader the world wants it to be: a beacon of transparency that is ever mindful of ethics.

Sanjay Nair is global sector chair, Technology.

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