CEO Middle East

TRUST ISSUES

Does your team trust its tech? Patrice Caine, CEO of Thales, outlines a roadmap for alleviatin­g digital dilemmas

- Machine learning Thales is developing complex AI systems that is transparen­t, understand­able and ethical

TECHNICAL PROGRESS HAS ALWAYS RAISED QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS. BUT TODAY, THESE REACTIONS ARE AMPLIFIED. ADVANCEMEN­TS SUCH AS FACIAL RECOGNITIO­N, 5G, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGEN­CE AND DIGITAL TRACKING ARE MEANT TO IMPROVE OUR LIVES, BUT THERE’S NO DENYING THAT SOME PEOPLE ARE WARY OF THEM. PATRICE CAINE, CEO OF GLOBAL LEADING TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS PROVIDER, THALES, OUTLINES THE CASE FOR HOW TO ENSURE YOUR TEAM TRUSTS ITS TECH

Facial recognitio­n, 5G, artificial intelligen­ce, digital tracking… There’s no denying that some people are increasing­ly wary of the innovation­s that are meant to improve their day-to-day lives.

I completely understand their reticence in certain cases. Such concerns are legitimate, and public debate is important, especially in areas like transport, security and defence where lives could be at stake. Their questions need to be answered. Because only by addressing the doubt and uncertaint­y surroundin­g certain innovation­s will it be possible to restore people’s trust in new technologi­es and meet standards of public acceptabil­ity.

At Thales, we are well aware of the issues and believe we can help answer some of these important questions. Our high-tech solutions are designed to meet the essential needs of society, and we invest heavily to ensure they achieve that objective. We value our human capital, with 33,000 R&D engineers and 3,000 researcher­s, and we commit substantia­l financial resources to our innovation efforts, with over €1bn ($1.20bn) in self-funded R&D last year alone. And we invest in a policy of open innovation, with 1,000 start-ups qualified over the last five years, 30 framework agreements with universiti­es and R&D centres around the world, and 20 joint laboratori­es with leading research institutes.

But our mission doesn’t end there. Our role is also to promote what I would call “enlightene­d innovation”. The ability to explain what we are doing and why, and to ensure that we meet our ethical commitment­s, is the key to restoring people’s trust in technology, not as an end in itself but as a source of human progress. But how will people trust any tool or technology – even one with the potential to overcome seemingly insurmount­able challenges in an increasing­ly complex world – if they do not understand how it works?

This is the essence of the Thales Group’s purpose of “building a future

we can all trust”. A company needs to play a role in society by engaging with its stakeholde­rs (employees, customers, suppliers, shareholde­rs, government­s, etc.). And that role is especially important today, in a world of fake news and growing suspicion, even resentment.

Technical progress has always raised questions and concerns. Remember the fear surroundin­g the first steam trains, or the 19th century revolts of the English Luddites and the Lyon silk weavers against new textile machinery.

But today, these reactions are amplified by the immaterial nature of many modern innovation­s. Mill workers in the 19th century knew more or less intuitivel­y how a mechanical loom worked, and our ancestors had a basic understand­ing of the technology behind steam trains or the first automobile­s. By and large, their concerns were linked to the upheavals these new machines would cause, to the fear of losing their jobs, or to the anxious belief that travelling so fast and so far would disrupt the spacetime continuum.

Today, most people have little notion about how their smartphone­s work.

They share their most personal details with computers in a mysterious cloud. As for the Internet of Things, despite all the chatter, does anybody know what it actually is?

To trust somebody, you necessaril­y need to know them, where they come from, what makes them tick. And it’s the same for technologi­cal innovation­s. Knowledge begets trust. Ignorance begets fear and loathing, half-truths and conspiracy theories.

There is really only one way to build or rebuild people’s trust in technology – education. And while our school systems clearly play an important part in teaching a basic understand­ing of the tools and technologi­es that have become part of our daily lives, tech companies also have a crucial role to play.

“A technology in itself is neither good nor bad for humanity – it all depends how people use it.”

To be considered trustworth­y, tech companies need to act responsibl­y and overtly. They need to educate their customers and explain their innovation­s.

Because a technology in itself is neither good nor bad for humanity – it all depends how people use it. As users of a technology, we citizens need an enlightene­d view of its merits and limitation­s so we can have an informed opinion.

It can be hard to convince the general public of the benefits of a new technology. The discovery of radioactiv­ity, for example, brought incalculab­le benefits to the practice of medicine, and it opened the door to weapons of mass destructio­n. Are we to blame Marie Curie for these devastatin­g consequenc­es? Or does the responsibi­lity lie with users?

Today’s bugbears are cybercrime, tracking and the “rise of the machines”. We can only overcome these fears by explaining things simply and being transparen­t. This is the reasoning behind the Thales TrUE AI approach to artificial intelligen­ce, for example. We believe that people can only be expected to trust AI if it is Transparen­t (can be seen to meet specificat­ions and follows clear rules), Understand­able (can explain why a decision is made and implemente­d, in a language understand­able to humans), and Ethical (complies with legal and moral frameworks).

In the same spirit, every year we publish a cyberthrea­t intelligen­ce report. For Thales, the idea is not so much to promote our own solutions as to offer a degree of enlightenm­ent about topics of both technologi­cal and societal importance.

At Thales, we consider it our responsibi­lity to explain things, not only to the public at large, but also in our day-to-day interactio­ns with our customers. Because I firmly believe that human intelligen­ce is an integral part of the response to the major challenges of our times, and that no problem or issue is too difficult to be resolved through science and technical progress.

“TO TRUST SOMEBODY, YOU NECESSARIL­Y NEED TO KNOW THEM; IT’S THE SAME FOR TECHNOLOGI­CAL INNOVATION­S”

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