Emerging Technologies

Technology’s tipping point: Why now is the time to earn trust in AI

Female computer engineer works on an artificial intelligence (AI) project with her multi-ethnic team of specialists: Technology companies are in a position to increase trust in AI.

Technology companies are in a position to increase trust in AI. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Margot Edelman
New York General Manager; U.S. Tech Practice Co-Lead, Edelman
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Emerging Technologies

  • The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 30% of respondents embrace artificial intelligence (AI) globally, while 35% reject it. However, trust in technology companies is much higher at 76%.
  • As people are divided on their acceptance of and trust in AI, the innovation is contributing to societal instability and polarization, making trust in the technology critical.
  • The Edelman Trust Barometer found that those who are less enthusiastic about AI would feel more positive about it if they understood it better and saw the benefits for society and themselves.

The rapid development of artificial intelligence (AI) offers technology companies endless opportunities for progress and growth. However, the tech industry can only seize the moment if it earns the public’s trust in developing and rolling out AI innovations.

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual report on society’s trust in institutions, surveyed 32,000 respondents across 28 countries about trust amid rapid innovation. According to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer: Insights for Tech supplemental report, AI is at a crossroads. Globally, 30% of respondents embrace the innovation and 35% reject it. Now is the time to give more people reasons to move from rejection to acceptance because AI isn’t going anywhere. In fact, generative AI features could add up to $4.4 trillion to the global economy annually.

While the jury is still out on AI’s efficacy and ethics, tech businesses are solidly in trusted territory: 76% of global respondents trust the tech sector, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. The gap between AI and technology more broadly suggests that technology companies can lean on the existing high trust in the sector responsible for AI to get more people to accept it.

With AI at a trust inflection point, technology companies have a unique and significant opportunity to ensure that the public recognizes the technology’s positive transformational impacts. Failing to do so risks creating deeper divisions in an already polarized society.

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The state of trust in technology and AI

Although technology is the most trusted business sector globally, it’s the only sector in the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer that did not see a year-over-year increase in trust. In contrast, all other sectors, including healthcare, manufacturing and energy, saw significant boosts.

More troubling, tech is losing its trust lead, going from being the most-trusted sector in 90% of the markets we surveyed in 2016 to being the most trusted in only about half this year. That is a precarious moment because people are more uncertain about the sector just as AI becomes ubiquitous.

AI companies do not boast the same trust levels that technology companies, in general, do. AI companies specifically have seen a decrease in trust globally over the past five years from 62% to 54%. AI has a more negative reputation than technology writ large.

Among those who feel less than enthusiastic about the growing use of AI, the top reasons they cite are privacy concerns, that AI may devalue what it means to be human, that it is not adequately tested and evaluated and that it could harm people and society. Only 22% cite AI’s potential threat to their job security as a reason for their concern, indicating that people’s fears are more related to fundamental societal issues than personal concerns.

How to earn trust in AI

With rapid innovation comes promise for the future. However, as people are split on acceptance versus rejection of AI, the innovation is becoming another wedge issue contributing to societal instability and polarization. As AI seeps into every aspect of society, trust and acceptance are not just nice to have; they are essential.

While it still holds its spot as the most trusted sector, technology should take the lead in addressing the big-picture worries to prevent further division or across-the-board rejection.

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer surveyed people on what prevents them from adopting AI and what would make them more likely to embrace it. Among those who are less enthusiastic about the growing use of AI, the top ways they would feel more positive about it are by understanding it better, seeing the benefits for society and seeing the benefits for how it helps them.

These are some recommendations for tech companies to consider when trying to reduce barriers to AI adoption, based on what AI sceptics say would help them embrace the technology.

1. Explain how AI works

The less people understand something, the less likely they are to embrace it. To many who have little experience with technology beyond using their smartphones and personal computers, AI may seem mysterious.

Tech companies should pull back the curtain and unpack how they use AI. Companies integrating AI into their products can lay out how they incorporate AI into the tools consumers already use. For example, Duolingo, the language learning app, has published blog posts about how AI helps to create lessons faster.

Companies inventing AI technologies should be open about the principles that guide their models. For example, Anthropic, an AI startup, published a constitution that governs how the tool works.

2. Show the benefits of AI for society

Much of the anti-AI narrative focuses on its impact on society and the global economy – for example, its potential to accelerate the spread of disinformation and drive job displacement.

These, of course, are serious risks that technology companies should work with regulators to tackle. But some tech companies are already deploying AI to improve society – they just need to communicate those efforts better.

Google, partnering with conservation organizations, uses AI to save critical animal populations and it accelerates climate action by suggesting fuel-efficient routing and predicting climate-related events.

3. Show the personal benefits

AI may still feel like a theoretical game-changer for some people who don’t realize they have already experienced it first-hand through tools like Google’s maps, spam filters and other products. As AI makes its way into more consumer products, tech companies should be transparent about how their AI technology works and how it makes individuals’ lives easier, cheaper or more enjoyable.

For example, Samsung focuses on integrating AI into its home appliances. And Microsoft emphasizes how Copilot, the company’s AI chatbot, can help users be more productive and creative when accomplishing everyday tasks.

If people feel more comfortable with how AI integrates into the way they live, they will be more likely to embrace it.

Playing the long game

Earning broad trust in and acceptance of AI may seem like a long road ahead but it is possible.

According to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer, 54% of respondents now embrace green energy, while only 13% reject it – it was introduced decades ago through solar, wind and geothermal energy.

If tech companies take the proper steps to explain and show the benefits of the innovation, they could assuage people’s fears and increase acceptance. Now is the time to act if we want AI to bring us together and improve society long-term.

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