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Why should people trust technology? 

Do consumers trust technology?  Not so much -- just ask them. This question was asked on a recent Edelman Trust Barometer, responder age was capped at 64.  And the survey showed that the largest drop in trust for a category from 2020-2021 was in technology (summarized here in a single graph) – for some, not trusted. What categories were the most trusted?  Food and beverage, healthcare, transportation, education and consumer packaged goods.  What’s this mean?  According to Edelman: “The tech industry is now being held to account for all manner of societal ills -- from information bankruptcy to job loss, to human rights, to the mass-class divide."

Do consumers trust driverless cars to be safer than their own driving? Not so much. The Wall Street Journal special report on Artificial Intelligence today included consumer views on Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). It was revealing – and not just about the 27 investigations underway of Tesla crashes. Those who are promoting AVs cite the possibility of these vehicles eliminating 10% of today’s accidents – making them presumably safer than the average human.  Unfortunately in the public eye (surveyed by the Wall Street Journal), only 11% would be willing to adopt them.  At half the accident rate of human drivers, only 37% would adopt.  And 15% said they had to have a perfect safety record before adopting. The explanation? The reluctance of humans to use superior but imperfect algorithms.

There has been bias built into dependence on smartphone data during Covid-19.   From a Stanford/Carnegie Mellon study: “Particular groups of people, including older and nonwhite U.S. voters, are less likely to be captured by mobility data from smartphones than demographic majorities. The co-authors argue that these groups could be disproportionately harmed if biased mobility data is used to allocate public health resources." Who uses this SafeGraph data?  “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employs it to identify health systems nearing capacity and to guide the agency’s public health communications strategy.” Hmmm.  According to Pew Research report in April 2021, only 61% of the 65+ population owned a smartphone.

How can trust in technology be improved? Edelman had theories, which can be perused by studying the Barometer report. However,  this being an opinion blog, here are some opinions:  1) Sources of information need to be disclosed – and not in the form of  'one senior executive said…'. 2) Sharing information with others that a user can "Opt in" to do versus explicitly "Opt out" is a murky process, often buried in lengthy Terms and Condition agreements which are designed to protect the company or organization. 3) The mix of opinion with information, including on the front page of national newspapers, has created an echo chamber world in which people search for opinions that match their own – a phenomenon that spilled out of politics – versus find opinions that are new to them. 4) As information sources proliferate like weeds, how will AV makers persuade you to trust the vehicle, despite $16 billion of research investment as of 2020? Comparison data with your optimistic self-assessment of your own driving skill is not likely to do it.  


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