What does it mean to trust a technology?

Social sciences have some important lessons on trust and technological innovation, writes Jack Stilgoe of University College London in Science Magazine.

The first is that people trust people, not things. 

Second, public trust is earned rather than built.

Third, more trust is not necessarily better.

The fourth point demands deeper exploration: trust depends on perceptions of whether sociotechnical systems are seen as beneficial and well-governed as well as whether they work as their designers expect.

The British Broadcasting Corporation, one of many legacy broadcasters besieged by social media, recently began a new advertising campaign with the strapline, “If you know how it’s made, you can trust what it says. Trust is earned.” Transparency does not necessarily lead to trustworthiness, but whether in news, policy-making, or technology, some people will have a legitimate interest in matters of process. For opaque technologies like artificial intelligence, this presents a particular problem.