The Future of Trust by Ros Taylor – blogtour

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The Futures Series from indie publisher Melville House UK recently launched with four titles that couldn’t be more different from each other: going from Songwriting, to Trust, to War Crimes Justice, to Wales! These smaller A-format flapped paperbacks are short nf / novella length perfect for the extended essays between their covers. The expert authors are as wide-ranging as the titles and have been challenged by the publisher to come up with ideas to get us thinking and talking about their topics.

I got The Future of Trust to read and review. A subject slightly outside my usual fare but the blurb sounded so thought-provoking I dove straight in, and it did leave me with lots to think about indeed. Author Ros Taylor is a journalist and podcaster, previously having worked at the Guardian and the LSE where she was research manager for the Truth, Trust & Technology Commission, so ideally placed to comment in this area.

After an introduction in which the various topics in which trust will be examined are outlined, the discussion begins with a chapter titled A Brief History of Trust, which delves into the differences between institutional trust and interpersonal trust by citing God and the Bible, Henry VIII mixing things up and the beginnings of the idea of a social contract.

Institutional trust became – in theory – at least, reciprocal. It gave people the confidence to obtain the life they wanted. Interpersonal trust made us human. Institutional trust makes us citizens. To put it another way, interpersonal trust gives you the confidence to step onto the zebra crossing when a car is approaching. Institutional trust means that if the car runs you over, you know that an ambulance will take you to hospital and the driver will be punished. Only when the institutional trust is there would many of us dare to step into the path of an oncoming SUV.

It’s telling that this chapter finishes by introducing two of our recent challenges:

And just a few months after the British public had again put their faith in Boris Johnson’s ability to cut through complexity and ‘get Brexit done’ came yet another test of our faith in his leadership: the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID gets its own section, and If ever interpersonal and institutional trust were put on trial, the UK Government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic gave them the hardest test – and they were ultimately found wanting. Taylor comes up with a four-point plan to help in the next pandemic, which includes the issue of simplifying the complexity of necessary legislation so our politicians can’t argue around it when they don’t obey the law!

The next short chapter on ‘Law’ looks at the Human Rights Act, Rwanda, abortions and assisted dying, the latter being an issue that MPs are avoiding. She doesn’t dwell on the NHS – acknowledging it could have a book all of its own on the subject!

We turn next to thorny tech topics, more business than government-related. The Metaverse and AI – and their opposite represented by a growing band whose philosophy is being called neo-Luddism. The COVID anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists were in at the beginning of this. We move on to look at ‘Neom’, a new city in the desert being built by a Saudi Arabian prince, and Taylor conjures up a vision of what it might be like to live there with everything provided, the cost being all your data.

Taylor continues on to look at Deepfakes and the Media, the Police and Climate, the latter two sections including more rather scary future scenarios, before moving onto her conclusions, in which she says that business is outstripping government in fostering trust these days, but not all businesses will succeed. Also she acknowledges the challenge posed by AI, do we want it to make decisions for us? Not really! She believes it’s not too late for government, presumably of any alignment, to win our trust back, but they need to work much harder at it.

I could have quoted endlessly from this little book, but wanted to leave some of the issues covered to your imagination to think about. It was a thought-provoking read, and I do have plenty to think about and maybe question my own attitudes towards trust. If the other titles in this series are as fascinating as Trust, they’ll be well worth reading indeed.

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Annabel is a co-founder of Shiny and one of its editors.

Ros Taylor, The Future of Trust (Melville House UK, 2024). 978-1911545675, 160pp. incl notes, flapped paperback, .

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4 comments

    1. The Songwriting one which you reviewed is shouting out ‘Read me too’ to me!

  1. I’ve long thought about the often unacknowledged trust we assume to exist in social and public situations – and even taught about it! I used to say to sometimes recalcitrant classes ‘If I needed to step out of the classroom for any reason I trust you not to do some things and to do other things, sensibly, just as you’d trust me to do my best for you.’

    Without trust, society breaks down; and the author is right: the erosion of trust, especially in institutions and in individuals we used to expect to behave in a not reckless fashion is ongoing, to the point where the lack of it poses an existential threat to all of us.

  2. This little book can only delve into a few areas to highlight some of the issues, which are so important. But it do the job to get me thinking about it.

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