How to restore trust in technology
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How to restore trust in technology

How to restore trust in technology

To be considered trustworthy, tech companies need to act responsibly and overtly

Facial recognition, 5G, artificial intelligence, digital tracking… There’s no denying that some people are increasingly wary of the innovations that are meant to improve their day-to-day lives.

I completely understand their reticence in certain cases. Such concerns are legitimate, and public debate is important, especially in areas like transport, security and defence where lives could be at stake. Their questions need to be answered. Because only by addressing the doubt and uncertainty surrounding certain innovations will it be possible to restore people’s trust in new technologies and meet standards of public acceptability.

Technical progress has always raised questions and concerns. Remember the fear surrounding the first steam trains, or the 19th-century revolts of the English Luddites and the Lyon silk weavers against new textile machinery.

But today, these reactions are amplified by the immaterial nature of many modern innovations. Mill workers in the 19th century knew more or less intuitively how a mechanical loom worked, and our ancestors had a basic understanding of the technology behind steam trains or the first automobiles. By and large, their concerns were linked to the upheavals these new machines would cause, to the fear of losing their jobs, or to the anxious belief that travelling so fast and so far would disrupt the space-time continuum.

Today, most people have little notion about how their smartphones work. They share their most personal details with computers in a mysterious cloud. As for the Internet of Things, despite all the chatter, does anybody know what it is?

To trust somebody, you necessarily need to know them, where they come from, what makes them tick. And it’s the same for technological innovations. Knowledge begets trust. Ignorance begets fear and loathing, half-truths and conspiracy theories.

Caine: Technology in itself is neither good nor bad for humanity —-it all depends on how people use it.

Education
There is only one way to build or rebuild people’s trust in technology — education. And while our school systems play an important part in teaching a basic understanding of the tools and technologies that have become part of our daily lives, tech companies also have a crucial role to play.

To be considered trustworthy, tech companies need to act responsibly and overtly. They need to educate their customers and explain their innovations.

Because technology in itself is neither good nor bad for humanity —-it all depends on how people use it. As users of technology, we citizens need an enlightened view of its merits and limitations so we can have an informed opinion.

It can be hard to convince the general public of the benefits of new technology. The discovery of radioactivity, for example, brought incalculable benefits to the practice of medicine, and it opened the door to weapons of mass destruction. Are we to blame Marie Curie for these devastating consequences? Or does the responsibility lie with users?

Today’s bugbears are cybercrime, tracking and the “rise of the machines”. We can only overcome these fears by explaining things simply and being transparent. This is the reasoning behind the Thales TrUE AI approach to artificial intelligence, for example. We believe that people can only be expected to trust AI if it is Transparent (can be seen to meet specifications and follows clear rules), Understandable (can explain why a decision is made and implemented, in a language understandable to humans), and Ethical (complies with legal and moral frameworks).

Patrice Caine is CEO, Thales

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