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Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

Navigating the Paradox: Restoring Trust in an Era of AI and Distrust

September 22, 2023

By Alexis Bonnell, CIO and Director of the Digital Capabilities Directorate, USAF

In a world driven by technological innovation and global connectivity, a perplexing paradox unfolds: the pursuit of trustworthy artificial intelligence (AI) coincides with a time marked by a pervasive erosion of trust in institutions, media, and interpersonal relationships. This seeming contradiction prompts a profound exploration of the quest for dependable AI in an environment where trust among humans is diminishing. This article delves into this complex landscape, reflecting on the need for rekindling trust in society, particularly within the government and public sector, and the limitations of relying solely on AI regulation to bridge the trust gap.

The Erosion of Trust: A Multifaceted Crisis

Trust has long been the bedrock of human interaction, a foundation upon which societies, economies, and governments are built. However, contemporary society is grappling with a crisis of trust that extends across numerous domains. Governments face skepticism stemming from political polarization, accusations of corruption, and the proliferation of misinformation. The media, once a bastion of information dissemination, is now plagued by doubts due to the rise of 'fake news' and sensationalism. Even interpersonal relationships are influenced by the anonymity of online interactions and the fraying of traditional community ties.

AI's Ascent in the Face of Distrust

Interestingly, amid this crisis of trust, AI finds itself in the epi-center of the trust conversation. People are increasingly turning to AI systems to aid in decision-making, offer recommendations, and provide seemingly impartial information. AI's appeal lies in its potential for objectivity, data-driven analysis, and the absence of emotional bias—qualities that seem to counteract human fallibility. In a world where trust in human judgment is faltering, AI may offer a route to greater objectivity and openness.

Peering Beneath the Surface of Trustworthy AI

Yet, the narrative of AI as a potential impartial ally worthy of trustworthiness warrants scrutiny. While AI possesses the capability to analyze vast datasets and generate ostensibly impartial outputs, it remains a product of human influence. AI algorithms are shaped by datasets generated by humans, inheriting biases and prejudices inherent in that data. If the input data is tainted by inaccuracies, disparities, or biases, the AI's output reflects these flaws, potentially exacerbating societal biases.

Moreover, the opacity of numerous AI algorithms complicates the notion of trust. The 'black box' nature of some AI models refers to their decision-making processes being inscrutable even to their creators. This lack of transparency can evoke skepticism, especially when AI-driven decisions carry significant real-world consequences. There is an irony in our discomfort with “Black boxes” as anyone in a long-term relationship knows that the operating system on our humanness is even more opaque. So yet again, we accuse AI of being untransparent while we the humans it is built to serve are the ultimate “black boxes”.

The Mirage of Human Devolution

While the growing reliance on AI might appear to reflect a decline in interpersonal trust, it's essential to avoid oversimplifying the issue. The degradation of trust is the result of a complex interplay of factors, encompassing economic inequality, social fragmentation, and the echo chambers amplified by the digital age.

Government's Role in Rebuilding Trust

Amidst this landscape, governments and the public sector play a pivotal role in restoring trust. Instead of merely hoping that regulating AI to be trustworthy will suffice, it is imperative for institutions to prioritize rebuilding trust in the nation. Relying solely on AI to bridge the trust gap neglects the foundational need for trust in human interactions and governance. While AI can provide tools to enhance transparency and accountability, it cannot substitute the human connections that form the basis of societal harmony.

Governments must acknowledge that the erosion of trust is not a predicament that AI alone can remedy. The pursuit of trust involves promoting transparency, ethical governance, and open communication. Distrust in government is fueled by an array of factors: political polarization, allegations of corruption, and the spread of misinformation. This has led to disillusionment among citizens and a detachment from the decision-making process. In this climate, technology presents both a challenge and a solution—an opportunity for governments to bridge the gap and regain the trust of their constituents by fostering an environment of openness, fairness, and inclusivity in all ways we interact, not just AI.

Ensuring AI's Potential for Balanced Discourse: Breaking Echo Chambers and Biases

One of the pivotal challenges in harnessing AI to rebuild trust lies in its responsible training. To truly seize the opportunity for AI to promote diverse thought and balanced discourse, it must be cultivated differently from its current trajectory. AI algorithms should be meticulously crafted to transcend biases and dismantle echo chambers often found on social media platforms. By prioritizing unbiased and fully representative datasets during training, AI can be calibrated to deliver information that reflects the full spectrum of opinions on a given issue. Moreover, AI can be designed to intentionally introduce users to viewpoints contrary to their pre-existing beliefs, encouraging a healthy exchange of ideas and preventing the reinforcement of echo chambers.

National Initiatives: Engaging the Masses

At the national level, governments can employ technology to facilitate dialogue with citizens on pressing matters. Online platforms and social media can be harnessed to gather public input on policies, budgets, and legislation. Town hall meetings could transcend physical boundaries, taking place in virtual spaces accessible to a wider audience. Restoring trust though requires transparency of this dialogue, showing how all people feel, not simply taking the validating feedback, soundbytes, and reinforcing positions for the policy we believe we should champion, but also be brave enough to show who isn’t supportive of the policy and why they have taken that position.

Possibly the most critical opportunity is for how we as public servants steward our own behaviors, values and actions. If we can open the doors for positive dialogue, diversity of thought and model tolerant and considerate spaces, we may do more than all of the AI programming and policies being undertaken now.

The Balancing Act for the Future

The paradox of seeking dependable AI amid a backdrop of declining trust serves as a poignant reminder of the intricacies of our modern age. Instead of treating AI as a panacea for trust-related challenges, By nurturing interpersonal trust, encouraging dialogue, and prioritizing transparency and ethical conduct, governments can bridge the trust deficit that extends beyond the realm of technology. While AI can offer assistance, it should not be the sole solution to a multifaceted crisis of trust.