The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report Reveals Distrust About Innovation

By Heather Kierzek


Artificial Intelligence CEO Emerging Technology Regulation

Innovation has been on the forefront of directors’ minds these past few years with the rapid expansion of artificial intelligence (AI) use and investments in renewable energies to meet climate goals, to name a few trends. Today directors are grappling with how to safely incorporate these and other innovations into their business models while appeasing shareholder demands to prepare for the future.

The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report: Innovation in Peril offers survey data from 32,000 respondents in 28 participating countries worldwide to shed light on the distrust that society feels with the current rapid pace and mismanagement of innovation.

“Innovation is accelerating and should be a growth enabler, but it will be stymied if business doesn’t pay as much attention to acceptance as it does research and development,” said Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman. “More than two-thirds of our respondents who say innovation is poorly managed believe society is changing too quickly and not in ways that benefit ‘people like me’ (69 percent). The mass-class divide, the huge imbalance in trust between business and government and the infodemic have been the forces behind the decline in trust and polarization. Fear of innovation has now become the fourth log on the populism fire.”

According to the report, there are significant gaps between trust in the businesses that comprise industry sectors and industry innovations, including a 26-point gap between trust in businesses in the technology sector (76 percent) versus trust in AI (50 percent); a 23-point gap between trust in businesses in the healthcare sector (73 percent) versus trust in gene-based medicine (50 percent); and trust in businesses in the food and beverage sector (72 percent) vs trust in GMO foods (32 percent).

Additionally, in the last decade, trust has declined significantly in companies headquartered in the largest exporting nations, including China (from 2014 to 2024, down 3 points to 30 percent); the United States (down 9 points to 53 percent); and Germany (down 9 points to 62 percent).

Regulation concerns are top of mind globally, with 59 percent of respondents (a majority in 26 out of 28 participating countries) saying that governments lack the understanding of emerging technologies that is needed to regulate them. As a result, the public is nearly two times more likely to fear poorly managed innovation and lack trust in businesses to safely introduce innovations into society and into their own companies.

“We are teetering on the edge of a fault line that could easily become a precipice. Business is perceived as 32 points more ethical than government, and 52 points more competent. But 61 percent of respondents worry business leaders are purposely misleading them by saying things that they know are false or gross exaggerations. Information quality—and integrity—really matter to the current and future value of your business,” said Alex Thompson, global chair of Edelman’s Corporate Affairs and Impact practices.

Public trust is stronger when companies work with governments to properly regulate innovations, according to the Edelman report. Sixty percent of respondents believe that they would trust new technology more if a business were to partner with the government when implementing technology-led changes. Most respondents state that they would embrace changes in the adoption of green energy and AI with proper regulation. The implementation of recent regulation, including the European Union’s AI Act and President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Executive Order on Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence, have only improved public trust.

Additionally, the Edelman report notes that the public expects CEOs and boards to have a say in the safe adoption of these practices. Sixty-two percent of respondents want CEOs and the C-suite to manage changes occurring in society, not just at their companies. Still, trust is lacking between new products and the public. To encourage trust with digital innovations such as AI, 82 percent wish for CEOs to publicly speak about job skills needed for the future. Seventy nine percent believe that companies should explain the ethical use of their new technologies and 78 percent wish to know how such technologies will impact their jobs going forward.

“The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that most people—your employees and your customers—are far from being as excited uniformly about new technologies and lines of revenue as business leaders and investors. In the boardroom and on management teams, we can get a bit carried away with the drive for ‘next.' Right now, though, with all the geopolitical tension and technological advancement, there is a clear and present hesitance that demands far better—more transparent and more respectful—engagement with people who might need more convincing. If you don’t, the backlash against your next product launch could deal a killer blow,” Thompson said.

For boards, the knowledge about how technology is being used at a company could impact how much consumers trust the company—and even impact its workforce.

“If you’re an organization using AI, and most are, public distrust around the technology can very quickly disrupt other areas of your business,” said Janet Malzone, NACD.DC, national managing partner of Audit & Assurance Services at Grant Thornton. “For example, a negative public perception impacts a company's brand, which could tarnish customer loyalty. That can lead to increased regulatory scrutiny and ultimately impact investor confidence. Negative perceptions can also affect the employer brand, making it harder to attract and retain top talent.”

Heather Kierzek is the assistant editor of Directorship.