When Trust in technology is something to be proud of

I’m so proud of my offspring. How they see past the barriers that divided generations before them. And have an understanding of the universe that is far beyond my imagination. Their fascination with nature is something that may save our planet from extinction. As descendants of a time where the world seemed lost, they’ve given me hope in a future where I’ll be long forgotten.

This is less an ode to my two sons (pictured hugging one another). More an attempt at looking hundreds of years ahead to their offspring’s offspring. It’s inspired by the idea of long-termism.

There are various definitions and ideas associated with long-termism. Broadly, it’s about making the most effective decisions for the future. One approach for achieving this is to bring future, yet-to-be-born generations to the table today. In this way we can we better comprehend the consequences of our actions and take action to limit the peril without letting go of the promise.

The technology sector is arguably at the forefront of all the action. Technology builds bridges to the future. Long-termism asks how technology brands help society cross them. Our recent tech cut of the Trust Barometer offers some insight.

First, there has been a sharp decline in tech trust across Europe and North America. Here, the once unshakable sector has ceded ground to health, education and manufacturing. In these regions we have a mass distrust of our emerging technologies such as AI, 5G, VR and IoT. They are also places where trust within society has all but evaporated. Where we feel the system is failing us and are not ready to buy into promises of the new.

Conversely, across Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, in tech we trust; including emerging tech, which we believe has a greater potential for good. With few exceptions, trust in these societies is solid. However, fear of losing jobs through automation is strikingly high. The average Brit, Canadian, American or German is less concerned by machine displacement.

These contradictions are not surprising. Previous trust studies have shown we find the pace of technological change too fast. The latest data reveals our grasp of even the most widely reported innovations is at best weak. However, we do want to know more about the risks and rewards of wonders like driverless cars and AI robots. And we’re big on ethics, training, monitoring and regulation of this tech.

Education, as ever, is the main challenge. The minority who know a lot about emerging tech are the most convinced about its positive impact, especially tech sector employees. Working inside the industry has certainly given me this optimism. Now we could chalk it up to living inside our own tech bubble.  It's easier to see ourselves in a future when we're already enjoying the benefits it brings today.

But our study showed how tech workers expect a stronger social conscience from employers. They are more likely to want their CEOs to speak out on the big existential issues of the day. Issues like diversity, inequality and climate change. They’re also more likely to expect employers who give them an opportunity to shape the future of society. And like our future descendants, be offered a seat at the decision-making table.

Closing the tech knowledge gap can give the uninitiated majority a firmer grip on what comes next. And by applying long-termism to this learning opportunity, ensure a future we can all be proud of.