In your view, what are the main driving forces supporting or undermining trust towards technologies today? Do any specific global issues and developments come to mind?
Over the last few decades, we have seen a global erosion of trust. It goes far beyond just technologies. We have seen trust diminish in international relations, for instance, as evidenced by the collapse of multilateral disciplines in trade and investment. We have seen trust diminish within nations, for instance vis-à-vis government authorities, justice, the police. We even saw trust diminish vis-à-vis science.
Reduced trust vis-à-vis technology is hence part of a larger phenomenon. In the digital world, however, mis-trust is particularly damaging, because it erodes one of the tenets of what a global digital society might be. Trust is the glue that holds that edifice together, and allows it to function with minimal frictions.
One worrying aspect of this diminished trust is that it has progressively grown deeper. From a mistrust of content (fake news), it has moved to a mistrust of sources (biases in reporting), to a mistrust of specific media (particular TV channels, social media). It has now reached the level of significant mistrust vis-à-vis technology in general (including tools such as cloud computing or artificial intelligence), and even at times entire systems (capitalism) or even science, as mentioned earlier. On the scale of human civilization, this potentially represents a regression of several millenniums.
What are some potential short or long-term consequences of a decline in public trust towards the Internet and digital technologies? Can we consider this a “crisis”?
If you ask that question to an economist, they will typically answer that, in any system or organization, reduced trust leads to reduced efficiency and hence higher costs. Clearly, to take a concrete example, a rise in cyber-criminality increases the need for additional investments in security, and lowers fluidity in transactions.
If you ask the same question to a sociologist, they will probably underline that the larger a group, the more difficult it is to establish and maintain trust among its members.
Since digital societies are global by nature (their constitution and development being less constrained by physical and geographical constraints), providing them with solid trust structures is both more important and more challenging. Often, trust-building efforts resemble those that an architect would need to provide after a building has been built, as if we wanted to make that building fire-proof, or eathquake-proof, or eco-friendly ‘ex-post’.
Yet, if we do not do it, consequences could be both disastrous and irreversible. Entire economic and political systems (such as representative democracy) are essentially based on trust. Major economic crises were triggered by trust failures. Populism and isolationism thrive when established regimes lose credit. Dis-intermediated technology might accelerate this process. Better governance (in technology, in data, in artificial intelligence) is urgently needed to avoid further losses of trust.
So can we speak of a crisis ? Yes, definitely, but we need to remember that in ancient Greek that the noun κρίσις (crisis) was derived from the verb κρίνω (krinō), which means ‘to distinguish, to choose, to decide’. Now is not the time to panic, but to decide. NRI aims at being a facilitator of the required decisions.
How can the Network Readiness Index serve as a tool to assess the state of trust in a network society?
French philosopher and Nobel Prize Albert Camus once said,
‘To name things wrongly is to add to the misfortune of the world’.
A similar statement can be made about the efforts carried out by the Network Readiness Index over the last 25 years or so:
‘To measure things wrongly would damage trust in the digital age’.
The data from the NRI examines how digital economies have dealt with and continue to fare in the face of present-day challenges. How can the NRI be used by nations to prepare for the uncertainties and novel technological developments/challenges that the future will bring? In my view, NRI can contribute in at least three major ways:
- Keeping track of how digitalization changes our lives – Beyond the hype of techno-solutionist statements, and away from the extremist positions of ‘digital luddites’, NRI can contribute to identify good and poor practices, and point at ways in which networked societies can be less unequal, more sustainable and happier.
- Encouraging international cooperation – By highlighting the efforts made by countries at all levels of development, NRI can continue to stimulate the global knowledge and international exchange of experiences across our digital planet.
- Restoring trust – As our societies need more and more verifiable fact-based evidence on which to formulate sound judgements and take better informed decisions, benchmarking and quantification take more importance and value. NRI is one of the tools that governments, businesses and ordinary citizens may wish to use to enhance our collective ability to benefit from the current and future advances in digital technologies.
The 2023 edition of the Network Readiness Index, dedicated to the theme of trust in technology and the network society, will launch on November 20th with a hybrid event at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Register and learn more using this link.
For more information about the Network Readiness Index, visit https://networkreadinessindex.org/
Bruno Lanvin is the co-editor of the Network Readiness Index and co-founder of Portulans Institute, where he currently serves as an Advisor. He is INSEAD’s Executive Director for Global Indices, the founder and CEO of DL Partners SA, a Geneva-based consultancy, and the President of the Smart City Observatory.
Since 2002, he has been co-authoring The Global Information Technology Report (now NRI), and is currently the co-editor of the Global Innovation Index, published by WIPO and Portulans Institute. In 2013, he created and launched the first edition of the Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI), and is still the co-editor of this annual report. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Valenciennes, France, a Masters of Business Administration from Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC) in Paris, France, a PhD in Economics from the University of Paris I (La Sorbonne) in France, and is an alumnus of INSEAD (IDP-C).