Building trust in autonomous vehicles in the Generative AI era

Research shows values and transparency really matter to decision-makers in the
automation space

This week we’ve seen one of the most dramatic interventions in  the AI story yet. The debate about its use has been brought even further into the mainstream as industry figures came together to push for at least a six-month halt on the development of advanced AI. Even Elon Musk, a long-time champion and pioneer of AI, has joined the call.

From job losses through to misinformation, concerns have been growing around its increasing impact on society. And through association with Musk (who of course co-founded OpenAI, the organisation behind ChatGPT), autonomous vehicles have been brought into the discussion; several journalists have highlighted that Tesla’s autonomous driving functions use AI technology.

While the recent developments within Generative AI are yet to reach the autonomous vehicles market (and we don’t know if / when they will), this recent movement adds another layer of complexity to one of the most significant hurdles to date in gaining trust in autonomous vehicles: trust.

Trust in autonomous vehicles is fragile: slow to build and incredibly quick to break. It’s an issue compounded by emotional sentiment towards driverless vehicles, technical challenges, perceived safety risk, and now, the wider concerns raised about AI and its ‘threat to humanity’.

How can communications help?

The decision around the pace of AI development lies well and truly out of our hands, but as comms professionals there is an important role, we can play in helping build trust.

While, of course, having a functional, safe, and sustainable product is a pre-requisite for long-term success, trust is multi-faceted, and communications needs to take a broad approach to building it amongst key audiences.

Here are two key things to consider when it comes to building trust around autonomous vehicles.

1. Your brand values are as important as your product

Decision makers care about your values. And this plays a considerable factor in forming trust. When we researched attitudes of the people who are adopting automation within the key sector of supply chains, logistics and transport, almost a third of these decision makers[1] are influenced by how a brand treats its employees, as well as caring twice as much that the average person on a company’s support around societal issues.

Additionally, a fifth of these decision makers say that transparency around company processes – ranging from hiring through to supply chains – is a critical part of building trust in a brand.

For communications, this means that brands linked to AI must continue being vocal about wider society issues. Within the world of AI and current discussions in the media, it’s imperative this links back to people, jobs and society. Against headlines from Goldman Sachs calling out the volume of job losses Generative AI in particular could create, the autonomous vehicles industry needs to tackle this head on. If driverless fork-lift trucks will be the future of warehouse floor logistics, the industry needs to help shape what people-centred roles within the warehouse and wider logistics could look like. Thought leadership in earned and owned media, as well as partnering with industry bodies to help shape and create future job roles, will be critical.

With transparency into internal company processes, sharing insight into company culture and employee welfare on your owned channels to demonstrate an employee first culture is also a critical building block of trust.

2. Hammer home credibility

Credibility is an important element of building trust, and there are multiple parts within the comms machine that we can use to demonstrate this. The biggest impact will come from sharing stories around early adopters, successful trials with customers or public spaces, or hitting key milestones such as entering new markets or securing funding.

A brand proposition that can’t be easily replicated is also key. A common proposition in this space might be ‘to disrupt’ or ‘unlock value’. Not only will this fail to differentiate from a breadth of competitors, but against today’s news agenda, words such as ‘disrupt’ could have negative associations with job losses.

A distinct and direct value proposition surrounding the benefits of driverless transport and wider autonomy for people and society (as well as industry) should instead emphasise the creation of positive change. Being specific about the application of autonomous software and related technologies and framing its primary benefit to users across all settings will be critical.

Driverless software companies have an exciting opportunity to shape an industry that’s in the height of transformation. And as communications professionals, it is our role to tell better stories for bigger impact to help drive trust within this industry.

[1] Insights from Global Web Index, March 2023, based on people using, or considering using automation within supply chain, transportation and logistics.