6 things 2020 holds for us according to an expert

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A new decade is just around the corner, and with it comes a new wave of technology. Here, leading trust expert, author and University of Oxford Trust Fellow Rachel Botsman predicts what 2020 has in store for us, and shares her philosophy on the future…

In 2010, trust expert Rachel Botsman had a vision: that people would shift their trust in powerful institutions and start to invest it in complete strangers instead. 

Her groundbreaking book, What’s Mine Is Yours, defined the rise of the sharing economy, and explored how digital technologies were driving a new era of “distributed trust”, a theme that later became the subject of her 2017 bestseller, Who Can You Trust? 

Here, the author, podcaster and TED speaker shares her key predictions for 2020, and how we can navigate the new digital age more mindfully.

1. We’ll be looking for a safety net

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“In my book Who Can You Trust? I mapped out the idea that history has three big chapters of trust: local trust, institutional trust, and distributed trust, which is when technology that used to be controlled by an institution or by one leader is distributed amongst the network. 

You see signs of this everywhere, in new learning platforms from Coursera and Airbnb, to Uber and dating platforms – it’s all over our lives once you start to see it. 

This world of distributed trust does break down barriers, and it does mean an entrepreneur in a tiny town can have their own marketplace, which is wonderful. But it is hugely problematic because when things go wrong, where is the centre, and who is responsible? 

We like the idea of control, we like the idea of empowerment, but the scale of things that can go wrong (like with Facebook and the election) means we can’t fix those things as individuals.

So there’s a real tension between wanting to live in this distributed world where we take the power away from the institution, but then realising we need a new kind of safety net. There will be more of a focus on accountability to come regarding this.”

2. Technology will continue to change our concept of trust

“Trust is a relationship with the unknown. I think often, people think trust is knowing how someone will behave, and that’s not what trust is. 

If you know the outcome of something, then very little trust is required. Trust is actually having faith in things that we can’t see, and not knowing the outcome of the thing.

I think what’s happening now is trust is changing form, and so this trust that for generations was very hierarchical, it flowed down, there were very linear sources of information – that’s not how it works in the world today. 

Nowdays, it comes from multiple sources of information, people who have influence around our beliefs that we would never have believed were trustworthy in the past.

One of the most obvious ways technology affects trust is it changes whom we can trust, so we can trust strangers.

Ten years ago, the concept of eBay, even the idea of sellers on Amazon seemed like crazy ideas, so this idea that we can now transact and interact with individuals is a huge impact of technology.

Technology also accelerates trust, if you think about how quickly you can pay for things, or how quickly you can share a piece of news or a photograph.

But that speed is not necessarily good for trust, because we’re not always thinking enough about where we’re placing our trust or what we’re sharing, so that’s a huge challenge and I think we’ll continue to navigate that in 2020.”

3. There will be unprecedented innovation

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“Next year we are going to see a massive change in smart assistance in the home that looks very different from the first generation of Alexa. 

People talk about not trusting AI but we already trust it to guide our GPS and make our Netflix decisions. 

This leap between technology doing things for us and technology deciding things for us is going to be massive, and that will be from our finances to dating to our health decisions, and in our homes. So I think all the integration of our devices into our lives, and the way different objects will create different moments of interaction, is really interesting.

Another new emerging trust issue is Artificial Intelligence.

For me it’s like a trust thief, especially the frightening reality of Deepfakes. Next year, particularly around the next US election, we will start to see the ramifications of this technology, and it will become more of a desktop technology, meaning that kids in our homes can create new things with unbelievable accuracy.

The thing that concerns me most about this technology is whether we will start to care about having this shared sense of reality – what you believe is real, and I believe is real, and that you and I can both believe the same thing because there’s evidence around that.

I think we’re going to see this being challenged in multiple ways - including in a court of law where any lawyer could turn around and say ‘how do we know that evidence hasn’t been manipulated?’”

4. Stories will satisfy our curiosity rather than news

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“Someone asked me the other day: ‘what’s the most interesting news story of 2019/2020?’ and I thought, there hasn’t really been one.

The news doesn’t seize my curiosity. I think curiosity comes from the world of arts at the moment, more than the world of sciences. 

People are really curious about storytelling and everything that’s going on with digital platforms and content, whether that’s on Netflix, the massive rise of podcasting, or the revival of non-fiction and fiction.

People are very, very hungry for stories and narratives and new ways of seeing things, versus following the beat of what’s going on in the world. Stories that they identify with, stories that are raw, stories that make them feel something.

I think if we tune out of the noise of the disasters going on in the world, which just sounds like the same old humdrum, we become more and more curious and insatiable for these stories and these narratives that can take us to these other places. It will be a really interesting time for storytelling on all formats.”

5. We’re likely to look for more physical experiences

“As technology becomes more and more sophisticated, will we actually see a nostalgia and a reversal of behaviours? I’ve gone back to the paper at the weekend, I’ve got rid of my Kindle, and I’ve even gone back to the milkman, because I like touching the bottles.

I think it’s interesting as some areas of our lives become even more virtual and digitised that the caveman in us is pulling back to those very tactile, simple things.

I also think what’s going to play out is trying to find smallness within bigness. What’s going on with a lot of businesses today is not just around trust and technology, it’s to do with trust issues around size.

In the past, companies used to talk about being the biggest, the most prestigious and making the most money, but I think we’re going to see a real change in the way brands and businesses think about their scale, because we’re searching for that locality, and I think that’s all tied up into this need for community space and human connection.

Whenever we feel like we’re losing control in our life, we’re wired to go back to what we know, which is quite literally solid ground.”

6. The future is exciting but we need to be careful

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“I think so much of what we need in our lives are smaller systems, where you can really serve people’s best interests. I am a huge supporter of local news, I’m a huge supporter of community practices, all these things are very important touchpoints where people can say “that thing is really there for me” versus “this massive system in the world that I have no control of” which I think is really tied to the huge rise in anxiety that we’re seeing in the world today.

I also think we need to give technology more thought.

Trust is something we only really care about when it goes wrong. We’re incredibly trusting around technology and incredibly trusting around other people, and in many ways, we don’t really want the world to become a less trusting place.

We want people to think more carefully about “is this product, or is this piece of information, or is this company, or is this political leader, do they actually deserve my trust?”

This is something you have to give; you have that power to decide whether that person is trustworthy, or whether that company is trustworthy, and if you really, really believe in this in the world, my philosophy on technology and the future is that you have to make that decision with care.”

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.