Businesses are more trusted than governments when deploying new tech, but there’s still some fear, says new study

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Ahead of the World Economic Forum gathering at Davos this past week, communications firm Edelman released its annual Trust Barometer, showcasing once again that businesses are the most trusted institutions out there, polling ahead of NGOs, government, and the media.

According to Edelman’s metrics, 63% of the public trust businesses to do “what is right.” Compare that with 59% who trust NGOs, 51% who trust the government, and 50% who trust the media. But when respondents are asked to rank their level of trust in each institution on more specific challenges, doubt creeps in.

When respondents are asked which institution they trust to manage the integration of innovative tech with society, none are truly “trusted.” Businesses still lead the pack, cinching a 59% score, but fall just short of the 60% threshold Edelman deems truly “trusted.” NGOs (54%) and government (50%) occupy the same gray space of “neutral” public sentiment while the media (48%) languishes in the zone of “distrust.” 

“To me, the massive takeaway is that the implementation of an innovation is as crucial as the invention or the introduction of it,” says Tonia Ries, executive director of intellectual property for the Edelman Trust Institute. “When innovation is poorly managed, people feel a sense of fear and anxiety that they’re going to be left behind.”

With AI on everyone’s minds at Davos, the year ahead will certainly be a proving ground for how successfully that tech is implemented in society.

Ries thinks that leaders in the AI space have thus far done a good job at introducing the public to the new tools, releasing products like ChatGPT to public use in its early stages, and being (decreasingly) transparent about its development. But now that AI has been introduced, how can businesses succeed in managing its integration?

Well, they’re going to need help. Edelman’s research shows that although businesses are the most trusted collectives, they aren’t the most trusted entities. The public trusts scientists and their own peers (74%) much more than CEOs (51%), journalists (47%), or government leaders (45%) when it comes to informing them about innovations. 

Ries says that part of why scientists and peers are the most trusted individuals is that they are perceived as relatively independent. Despite the survey also showing that the public worries science is becoming politicized, “people still believe in the idea that scientists do generally serve a higher truth that is independent of money or politics,” Ries says. 

The perception of a virtuous scientist creates a quandary for businesses looking to convince a skeptical public that innovation is good for them. Businesses need to leverage the voices of scientists to earn the public’s trust, but by partnering with them, corporations threaten to taint the independence that makes experts trustworthy in the first place.

Case in point: Edelman shows that scientists have a 74% trust rating, but “company technical experts”—many of whom are qualified scientists—are only at 66%.

“Elevating expert voices is key,” Ries says. “Doing it in a way that makes it clear that you value them for their expertise, not because they have your logo on their shirt sleeve, is part of making sure that those scientists and those expert voices are credible and seen as authentic.”

Ensuring the public understands the ins and outs of new technology and isn’t inundated with jargon or technical speech is also vital to building trust, as is making the public feel that their views on the tech-society interface are being heard. Most importantly, success won’t be achieved by one group alone. It will require a collective effort of experts, regulators, and businesses to get it done.

But as a journalist (47%), don’t take my word for it. You can read the full report here.

Eamon Barrett
[email protected]

IN OTHER NEWS

Ramaswamy trumped in Iowa
Donald Trump emerged victorious from the Iowa caucuses Monday, securing a 30-point win and the largest margin of victory in the Republican state’s caucus history. Trump’s success in the state has further sealed his grip on the Republican candidacy. Upstart Vivek Ramaswamy dropped out of the race following his fourth place finish in the caucus. Ramaswamy now endorses Trump.  

Back to office etiquette
Over 60% of U.S. companies will enlist the help of etiquette training companies to teach their employees how to dress appropriately for the office, interact with clients, and respect shared spaces in 2024, according to Resume Builder’s recent survey of over 1,500 business leaders. Making polite conversation was top of the list of lessons being requested by bosses, followed closely by dressing professionally and writing professional emails.

Musk wants more
Elon Musk leaned on Tesla’s board to arrange another massive performance award for him after he sold a significant chunk of his stake in the company to acquire Twitter. In one of several posts on the topic, Musk wrote that unless he has roughly 25% voting control at Tesla, he’d prefer to build artificial intelligence and robotics products elsewhere.

Bullish on the economy, bearish on industry
Global CEOs are more optimistic about the economy than they were a year ago, but less optimistic about their company’s ability to survive the next decade, writes Fortune‘s Alan Murray in his summary of PwC’s (a Trust Factor sponsor) annual CEO survey, released last week. Of the 5,000 CEOs surveyed, 38% expect the economy to improve, up from just 18% who said the same a year ago, but 45% say that if their “company continues running on its current path,” it won’t be viable a decade from now.

TRUST EXERCISE

“If foreign entities can use misinformation to discourage voters from going to the polls, then they can make people doubt the election itself.”

Adam Marrè, a former FBI cybersecurity agent, writes in Fortune that misinformation is the gravest threat facing national security this year, and that generative artificial intelligence is liable to supercharge the spread of false narratives. Over 40% of the world’s population is heading to the polls this year, setting the stage for a year of upheaval.

This week, Taiwan elected Lai Ching-te as the island’s new president, securing a third term of government for the Democratic Progressive Party, stoking tensions with Beijing. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, who falsely claims the last U.S. election was stolen from him, is tightening his grip on the Republican Party nomination.

This is the web version of The Trust Factor, a weekly newsletter examining what leaders need to succeed. Learn how to navigate and strengthen trust in your business and sign up for free.

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