The death of trust

Where do you go to find the answer to a question? Who do you trust?

Before the Web, you went to the network news or the local newspaper. If you needed a practical answer, you might take a book out of the library or ask somebody who you thought was likely to know the answer — like your neighbor with the meticulous landscaping for your gardening questions.

When Google emerged in the 90s, it was where you went to answer questions. The top results might not be perfect, but at least you could see who was supplying them. You could judge what to trust by the source.

When social media emerged in the 2000s, you probably got answers from your friends. The stuff they were sharing might be wrong, but at least you knew them and knew what they were likely to be smart about. You could check what you read, but most people just shared the headline without checking the source. You might also make a judgment based on ratings on a site like Yelp or TripAdvisor — if the crowds liked or disliked something, maybe they had a collective insight you could count on. Unless bots had gamed the ratings, of course.

Now you can ask ChatGPT or Google Bard. You’ll get a complete answer that sounds right. There’s no way to know where it came from or if it’s actually right or not. But it will be quick and persuasive, if not necessarily trustworthy.

We’ve gone from slow and trustworthy to fast, glib, and pretty much untrustworthy.

Misinformation is kicking away the last of the guardrails. It’s going to win.

A few of us will remain vigilant. But society as a whole is probably hosed.

Think, people. Please, I beg you. Think.

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  1. I asked Bing AI what it knows about me, specifying that I’m a lawyer in Montréal. It responded that I operate an office in Lyon with two partners, and practice criminal law, defending foreigners accused before French courts. I hope the Lyon Bar does not use that source of information to ask for my dues.

  2. You have succinctly captured a conversation I had yesterday with my husband. (Was Google Home listening!) We grew up reaching for books or the advice of experts when we wanted to solve a problem. We worked through advice critically. We tested solutions cautiously. Since the 90s we have seen an increase in people’s reliance on and trust in AI. If it’s online, it must be right. Right? Not necessarily. Yes, people, think, really think!

  3. Mine says “One kilogram of water and one kilogram of air have the same mass because they both weigh one kilogram. However, if we compare the density of water and air, we can see that water is denser than air. One cubic meter of water weighs 1,000 kg, while one cubic meter of air weighs only 1.2 kg”