Gu­ru­mantra

trust deficit?

The Smart Manager - - Contents -

Mor­gen Witzel, Ex­eter Busi­ness School, asks a per­ti­nent ques­tion—can we trust the in­tel­li­gence of a ma­chine?

Trust is es­sen­tial in busi­ness, as in­deed it is in so­ci­ety as a whole. With­out trust, we are un­able to build re­la­tion­ships with each other; with­out re­la­tion­ships there can be no co­op­er­a­tion, no col­lab­o­ra­tion, no or­ga­ni­za­tion, no mar­kets. Trust is ev­ery­thing; with­out trust, there is noth­ing.

What is the key in­gre­di­ent of suc­cess for ev­ery great leader? Trust. Peo­ple are will­ing to ac­cept their com­mands and fol­low them. No one ever achieved great­ness by driv­ing un­will­ing fol­low­ers to­wards a goal they did not be­lieve in. What is the most im­por­tant fac­tor in ev­ery fa­mous brand? Trust. We be­lieve the prom­ise this brand makes in terms of util­ity, qual­ity, and safety.

Will the in­creas­ing use of Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence (AI) cre­ate more trust in or­ga­ni­za­tions? Or will it ham­per trust re­la­tion­ships? Will we ever truly trust ar­ti­fi­cial

brains–or the or­ga­ni­za­tions that use them? Logic, based on both psy­chol­ogy and bi­ol­ogy, sug­gests we will not. For or­ga­ni­za­tions us­ing or con­tem­plat­ing us­ing AI—espe­cially in cus­tomer-fac­ing roles—this is a ma­jor chal­lenge. While there is no doubt that it can be a po­ten­tially pow­er­ful tool, AI will have to be used with great care, if the trust of key stake­hold­ers such as cus­tomers and em­ploy­ees is not to be for­feited.

the func­tion of trust

Be­fore ad­dress­ing this is­sue, we should stop to con­sider what trust is and how it works. Sim­ply de­fined, trust is the no­tion that other peo­ple will (a) do what we ex­pect them to do, and (b) will not do any­thing which is not in our own in­ter­ests. They will not attack us, or steal from us, or spread ru­mors be­hind our back; in­stead, they will be there for us when we need them.

In her book Trust in Mod­ern So­ci­eties, Bar­bara Misz­tal ar­gues that trust is an es­sen­tial part of com­mu­nity build­ing. We will only ac­cept into our com­mu­ni­ties those whom we feel we can trust; we will seek to re­pel those we can­not trust. Why is this so? Misz­tal says that one key fac­tor is the el­e­ment of pre­dictabil­ity. We trust peo­ple when we know how they will be­have. To do that, we need to know what so­cial norms and val­ues they hold, what they con­sider to be right and wrong. If those val­ues and norms are not con­gru­ent with our own, then we be­come un­cer­tain; we can­not pre­dict how these peo­ple will be­have, so we fear them. (As an aside, it is this kind of uncer­tainty about other peo­ple’s norms and val­ues and the fear this pro­vokes that is be­hind much racist be­hav­ior, across the world, and is a ma­jor fac­tor in the Is­lam­o­pho­bia cur­rently sweep­ing the West.)

Trust is es­sen­tial in brand-build­ing. Charles Bab­bage, bet­ter known as the pioneer of the com­puter, wrote of this in his book The Econ­omy of Ma­chin­ery and Man­u­fac­tures when he de­scribed the thought process that goes through the con­sumer’s mind when buy­ing sim­ple com­modi­ties such as tea and salt. In for­mer times, these were sold in bulk; a cus­tomer went into a shop and asked for a pound of tea, an as­sis­tant opened a bin and mea­sured out a pound, wrapped it up, and sold it. The cus­tomer had no op­por­tu­nity to in­spect the goods, to tell what qual­ity they might be or if they had been adul­ter­ated (which they fre­quently were). This meant uncer­tainty, which in turn led to lack of trust:

AI will have to be used with great care, if the trust of key stake­hold­ers such as cus­tomers and em­ploy­ees is not to be for­feited.

trust and the brain

One of the most pow­er­ful neu­ro­trans­mit­ters in the brain is oxy­tocin, a neu­ropep­tide, some­times also known as the ‘com­fort hor­mone.’ Med­i­cal sci­ence has long known that ges­tures of af­fec­tion and friend­ship re­lease greater quan­ti­ties of oxy­tocin in the brain. Tones of voice, phys­i­cal ges­tures, kind or re­as­sur­ing words, even some­thing so sim­ple as say­ing ‘thank you’ causes the brain to re­act in sev­eral ways. One is an in­crease in plea­sure; these ges­tures make us feel happy. An­other is an in­creased sense of se­cu­rity; when some­one is nice to us, we feel safe. And fi­nally, there is a sense of rec­i­proc­ity; we are more likely to re­spond with sim­i­lar ges­tures of our own.

More re­cent re­search has shown high lev­els of con­nec­tion be­tween oxy­tocin and trust. When other peo­ple be­have in ways that in­di­cate we can trust them, we ex­pe­ri­ence more oxy­tocin re­lease, and we be­come more ready to trust in turn. The op­po­site is also true. If we per­ceive that other peo­ple are be­hav­ing in ways we con­sider to be un­trust­wor­thy, less oxy­tocin is re­leased. We be­come un­happy, in­se­cure, and less likely to re­cip­ro­cate; in­deed, we are more likely to be ‘turned off ’ by these peo­ple and not will­ing to ac­cept them into our affin­ity group. We may try to re­ject them or ex­pel them.

There is of course an in­ter­re­la­tion­ship be­tween bi­ol­ogy and psy­chol­ogy here. What we con­sider ‘trust­wor­thy be­hav­ior’ de­pends very much on our knowl­edge of other peo­ple and their val­ues. What might be nor­mal in one cul­ture can be dif­fer­ent in an­other. Our de­ci­sion about what is trust­wor­thy be­hav­ior also de­pends on our knowl­edge of the other per­son as an in­di­vid­ual. Are they re­ally be­ing er­ratic and un­pre­dictable? Closer knowl­edge of them might in­di­cate that they are sim­ply ec­cen­tric, or have a few un­usual per­son­al­ity traits that we can over­look.

In An In­quiry Con­cern­ing the Prin­ci­ples of Morals, David Hume noted that we find it much eas­ier to build trust, or ‘sym­pa­thy’ as he called it, with peo­ple who are close by us.

When other peo­ple be­have in ways that in­di­cate we can trust them, we ex­pe­ri­ence more oxy­tocin re­lease, and we be­come more ready to trust in turn.

MOR­GEN WITZEL IS A MAN­AGE­MENT HIS­TO­RIAN, AU­THOR OF 21 BOOKS, AND A FEL­LOW OF THE CEN­TRE FOR LEAD­ER­SHIP STUD­IES AT THE UNIVER­SITY OF EX­ETER BUSI­NESS SCHOOL.

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