Is it wise to blindly trust digital applications?

Many areas of our lives now take place in digital contexts that we do not fully understand or do not understand at all. Against this backdrop, should we simply trust digital structures and applications? This project sought to study the significance of trust in the digital space and to understand how it influences our everyday lives.

  • Project description (completed research project)

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    Based on systematic philosophical reflections, the project addressed the general question of the importance of trust in the context of digital transformations and focused on two main issues: Firstly, it reflected on the significance of designating a digital structure as trustworthy. For example: when can we trust a medical algorithm? Secondly, the project addressed the question of how digital structures change the bonds of trust in our everyday lives. For example: how does the ubiquity of digital media influence the functioning of a democracy?

  • Background

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    The growing importance of digital technologies in all areas of our lives worries many people. Science often sees this insecurity as being a crisis of confidence. With regard to human interactions, a comprehensive reflection on the question of trust and the reasons for trust has already taken place in disciplines such as political science or sociology, but the discussion regarding digital structures is still in its infancy.

  • Aim

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    Given the significant presence of digital technologies in our lives, we often wish we knew which ones are trustworthy. An initial aim of the project was to understand what is meant by “digital trustworthiness”. The second goal was guided by the question of how to steer digitalisation processes so that they harmonise with our non-digital trust relationships.

  • Relevance

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    The project team under the direction of Professor Peter Schaber refined the central concept of trust and set it in a proper relationship to the technologies discussed in the digitalisation debate. Beyond this important groundwork, the project was also relevant from a practical point of view: it helped to respond to uncertainties associated with new digital technologies and to formulate suggestions on how to maintain trust in the face of increasing digitalisation.

  • Results

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    Three main messages

    1. It is a category mistake to claim that one trusts a digital artefact; at best, we can merely rely on such artefacts. Adopting this attitude helps us to prevent dangerous antropomorphisations that only benefit the industry.
    2. In the field of medicine, we should welcome the use of AI algorithms, particularly in the context of medical diagnosis, but since our main goal with respect to this kind of technology is to ensure its reliability we should conduct an open-ended discussion about what we want (or do not want) from medical AI.
    3. Digital communication tools can strengthen existing trust relationships, especially relationships between citizens, by enabling non-instrumental user interaction that reduces anonymity and abstraction.
  • Original title

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    Trust and Trustworthiness in Digital Spheres