In order to live in modern society, we need to trust an astonishing number of people every day. Let me explain:

We trust that the water coming out of the tap is drinkable, we trust that the currency (money) we earn will be accepted by others in exchange for goods and services, we trust that the police will protect us, we trust that the people who built our bridges and tunnels made no significant errors in their construction, and the list goes on.

Going back to ancient societies we’ve always needed this trust – it’s a core necessity that allows society to exist. But as technology has advanced, society has demanded an exponentially greater level of trust from its participants.

We now must have a greater level of trust in our peers – who, long ago, had a limited sphere of influence, but now can easily share libelous claims or compromising photos (say, snapped with their camera phone in the locker room) with the entire world by placing them on the internet. We must trust that regulators will not allow us to use new technology that could be detrimental to our long term health (e.g. potential carcinogens like cell phones). And we now must also trust that those who have control over nuclear weapons will protect them and not let them fall into the wrong hands.

In many ways, we must have the same “trusts” we’ve always had – but at a much higher level. This is the question I’d like to pose for today: Is there a limit to this collective trust?

Will there come a point when we simply can not trust each other enough to allow society and technology to advance further?

Right now, it’s likely that almost anyone would trust a city bus driver to deliver them safely to their destination. A few more trusting individuals today may participate in a Car Share program where they trust their peers not to steal or damage their vehicle. But, today, it is unlikely that anyone but the most trusting individuals would participate in a program like “CouchSurfing.com” where you find a person through the internet who is willing to let you sleep on their couch (instead of having to pay for a hotel).

Will the citizens of tomorrow be called upon to share and trust even more than we are today?

Perhaps in response to the advances of technology and society, we need “Trust Rating Agencies.” Just like we have credit rating agencies today, trust rating agencies would keep track of every person’s reputation and state whether or not they are trustworthy. Online retailers like Amazon and EBay have already adopted an internal trust rating system – perhaps the next step is global trust rating system?

Can you think of any jobs where you would feel much more comfortable knowing the person in charge has an objectively high level of trust? Policeman? Judge? What about airport security?

Just some thoughts for a beautiful Sunday afternoon.

Do we Need Trust Rating Agencies?
  • Note: this is a trifle babbling.

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    Well, I’m not sure the rating agencies have a history of success.

    It’s also interesting to note the “destruction of fats:” http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_19/b4227060634112.htm

    As soon as some information becomes economically valuable, it’s also valuable to have destroyed.

    Now, modern technology allows for (instead of a “rating”) a pretty detailed reputation that is accessible to third-parties. Facebook, for example, and how it stores your interaction history. Google. So on.

    I’m not sure a rating is the right answer, because it’s not detailed enough. Multiple ratings? Doesn’t seem likely. Or, well, possible.

    Trust is necessary for society (certainly).

    But trust is also only necessary when there are degrees of freedom. You need to trust a policeman, because he can do things to hurt you (e.g. lie).

    Trust is not necessary when there is no freedom, or when the repurcussions for certain actions are well-known and avoided. As you say: people trust a bus driver, because if the bus driver does something wrong, he gets fired. And his life is made more difficult, if not miserable.

    One option in the future is that people have less ability to do bad things. Thus, less need for trust. Society can become more efficient essentially by becoming more restrictive.

  • Very good point. Perhaps the relationship I tried to draw between an increase in Technology and and increase in Trust is not causal, but simply a correlation. It’s really Freedom that necessitates an increase in trust. In light of the article you shared, perhaps the title of this entry should have been “Regulators are doing a crap job at limiting our freedom, and you should be scared!”. :)