What does it mean to trust a technology?

Article by Jack Stilgoe: “A survey published in October 2023 revealed what seemed to be a paradox. Over the past decade, self-driving vehicles have improved immeasurably, but public trust in the technology is low and falling. Only 37% of Americans said they would be comfortable riding in a self- driving vehicle, down from 39% in 2022 and 41% in 2021. Those that have used the technology express more enthusiasm, but the rest have seemingly had their confidence shaken by the failure of the technology to live up to its hype.

Purveyors and regulators of any new technology are likely to worry about public trust. In the short term, they worry that people won’t want to make use of new innovations. But they also worry that a public backlash might jeopardize not just a single company but a whole area of technological innovation. Excitement about artificial intelligence (AI) has been accompanied by a concern about the need to “build trust” in the technology. Trust—letting one’s guard down despite incomplete information—is vital, but innovators must not take it for granted. Nor can it be circumvented through clever engineering. When cryptocurrency enthusiasts call their technology “trustless” because they think it solves age-old problems of banking (an unavoidably imperfect social institution), we should at least view them with skepticism.

For those concerned about public trust and new technologies, social science has some important lessons. The first is that people trust people, not things. When we board an airplane or agree to get vaccinated, we are placing our trust not in these objects but in the institutions that govern them. We trust that professionals are well-trained; we trust that regulators have assessed the risks; we trust that, if something goes wrong, someone will be held accountable, harms will be compensated, and mistakes will be rectified. Societies can no longer rely on the face-to-face interactions that once allowed individuals to do business. So it is more important than ever that faceless institutions are designed and continuously monitored to realize the benefits of new technologies while mitigating the risks….(More)”.

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