Trust, Authority and the Automation of Expertise

The final of our three lectures on the theme of ‘Trust and Authority in the Digital Age’ from the UoB/Trinity College Dublin Digital research partnership is delivered by Caroline Bassett, Cambridge University. The series addressed one of the key central questions in the digital world: how can we know whom and what to trust when there is so much information available?

How can we know who or what to trust? This lecture addresses the central theme of the series by asking what happens to trust when we no longer directly engage with the processes that give us this information or categorize it – as knowledge, rumour, conspiracy, fact, for instance, nor with those processes that authenticate, or ground, or contextualize what is given. The starting point therefore is that a particular kind of automation of expertise has contributed to the contemporary epistemic crisis – an incredulity towards experts and processes of knowledge production and a reliance on ‘my truth’ as ‘the truth’ or as the only truth that matters. The question I explore here is how will this develop further as automation processes accelerate through AI and machine learning and new kinds of automated expertise – and as new experts – arise? These issues are taken up here in part through an exploration of developments in synthetic writing. How will the automation of the word inform new generations of artificial experts, supplement the authority of artificial agents or helpers, and alter the ecology of human/machine knowledge production – for good or for ill, but also for whom?

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