2017 was the year of the trust crisis. According to Edelman’s trust barometer, there has been a steep decline of people’s trust across all key institutions: economics, governments, media, and NGOs. This scenario has now led to the erosion of social values and to an increase in fear, which has set ablaze the embers of populism across some of the world’s most powerful countries. Our trust has, in fact, been betrayed in many ways: let’s think of fake news, of why we end up reading it and believing it in the first place. With our attention span becoming shorter and shorter, we started taking our news sources on social networks and elsewhere for granted. Left with scarce time for digging deeper, we merely rely on our own intuition — which, unfortunately, cannot always be right.
Trust is a double-edged sword: it can simplify our life, yet it can damage it. Think of Amazon’s Alexa, Google Maps or Facebook’s Messenger: they are tools that help us immensely with our daily tasks and provide us with updated news, shopping lists, effective means of communication, driving directions, weather information and so on. In order to use such services, we give up an extremely valuable currency: not money, but data. Google, in particular, attracts a lot of our trust with a simple rewarding mechanism: we ask it anything and we get answers. The trust is so strong that we ask questions to Google which we would never ask anyone else. As a result, Google crowdsources even our most evil thoughts. As human beings, we lie on our job, relationship, resume — the only machine we don’t lie to is Google. The human willingness to tell it our ‘secrets’, to trust it so blindly, turned it into one the most powerful predictive machine in the world.
Still, trust is quickly becoming the most valuable currency we have. It is already the basis of today’s internet-powered economy, a blend between the digital and the physical world. The game-changer was eBay, which back in 1995 introduced a trust currency within its system to prove (to itself, and to other users) that you are a trustworthy and credible seller or buyer. Evolved systems are implemented today by all of the main players of the digital economy — Uber, Lyft, BlaBlaCar, Kickstarter, or TaskRabbit to name a few. These companies are based on a trust score for each user: they use different kinds of trust ‘protocols’ through which our value and reliability is established and validated in front of the community’s eyes. A good example is Airbnb, where many base their decisions to book a place on other reviews and on what other people have said about the property and the host. The same system works the other way around, with me as the ‘reviewed’ traveler. Airbnb built a “currency” that helps people connect with like-minded people, and evaluates them through their profiles.
Trust is therefore becoming a digital currency that we can ‘spend’ for our online (and offline) experiences. Now, a company named Deemly has launched a reputation and social verification tool for P2P marketplaces and sharing economy businesses. This tool collects all of its user’s information from APIs of different services – especially from the marketplaces of the ‘sharing economy’ – and creates an overall score of the person. At the same time, China is creating the Sesame Credit system, which ranks citizens based on a number of factors and aggregating data from Alibaba’s services. These variables include how much a given user is loyal to Chinese brands, or if they support the government in their interactions on social media, — the one who gets a higher rating is more likely to get a job, access a loan, or have a shorter waiting time in public offices.
The Edelman report states that “to rebuild trust and restore faith in the system, institutions must step outside of their traditional roles and work toward a new, more integrated operating model that puts people at the center of everything they do.” To achieve this goal, we’d also have to step up our transparency standards and procedures. In fact, transparency will be one of the biggest costs in the future, an area that we need to really push things forward in, so that no governments or industries take advantage of the trust systems of the future. We first trusted a calculator to calculate a formula; then we trusted a computer; then we trusted a system. As machines become smarter and their predictive powers increase, we’ll have to come together as human beings and build protocols that play in our favor, and protect us from the services we need.