Trust in the time of COVID-19. And Truth Decay.

Mon, Oct 12, 2020

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In the era of truth decay, it becomes harder and harder to decipher which sources and platforms are trustworthy, reliable providers of information. Working through a global pandemic only amplifies the problem.

Trust in the time of COVID-19. And Truth Decay.

Back in March, Amazon removed from the Alexa skill store nearly all voice apps that addressed issues related to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Google followed by making a similar move days later.

The reason, per Amazon and as reported by voicebot.ai’s Eric Hal Schwartz, is rather clear:

“In an effort to ensure accuracy and consistency of information shared with our customers, we are limiting skills about COVID-19 at this time.”

On one hand, stunning. Not that Amazon did so, but that misinformation—potentially deadly misinformation—would be put forward in volume in this time of a global pandemic. Such that the content decks would need to be scrubbed.

On the other hand, not surprising at all.

Because, regrettably, we live in a time of truth decay.

Which is one of the critical reasons why—in the world of voice assistance—the standards development work of the Open Voice Network is so essential.

Life in a time of truth decay

For the past three years, the esteemed Rand Corporation has been researching the issue of “Truth Decay,” defined as four interrelated trends:

Together, these trends are increasingly making it impossible to distinguish accurate information from low-quality or false content. Which means that disinformation—false or intentionally mis-leading information—becomes rampant.

It’s one thing when truth decay infects economic or political decision-making.

It’s another thing when it burrows into the heart of a global pandemic.

Dr. Jennifer Kavanagh is the author of the Rand book Truth Decay, and has led the Rand Corporation research. In a March interview, she spoke to the issues of Truth Decay and COVID-19:

“This is exactly the worst-case scenario that I imagined when I was writing the book.

This is the type of environment in which false and misleading information thrives and spreads quickly. People are vulnerable. People are afraid. People don’t know what to believe. Trust in basically every organization or position that we would turn to is pretty low.

The combination of low trust and high volume of information coming from people who are not experts—but purport to be experts—creates the perfect storm for the average person.”

How does this relate to the work of the Open Voice Network?

Let’s go back to the Truth Decay list. Number four: the issue of “lowered trust.”

As we’ve learned from our colleagues in China, voice assistance—trustworthy voice assistance—can serve as an extraordinarily valuable tool in the fight against COVID-19. Voice bots can help achieve early detection; they can provide trustworthy information to the affected; they can connect health workers with their families; they can be used to create hands-free use of everyday tools and services.

But the content and the source must be trusted. The content must be accurate. Based on the best research and best peer-reviewed knowledge of the best experts.

But we’re not set up to provide that (at a trustworthy level) through voice assistance. Not now. Content is captive to proprietary platforms. And in our current world of voice, we don’t have a independent, trustworthy dispatch or destination registry.

We don’t have the voice equivalent of a URL, a unique, trusted identifier that will absolutely directly connect you to a source of expert advice from the National Institute of Health or the Center for Disease Control. Or even trustworthy public sources as the Mayo Clinic or Cleveland Clinic.

In this time of COVID-19—and at a time when voice assistance can be a tool of high value—we need trust more than ever.

We need standards more than ever

Which is the reason for the Open Voice Network. A non-profit industry association with support from Tier 1 enterprises, tech firms, voice developers, and industry associations.

Dedicated to voice assistance that is worthy of user trust. And doing so through the development of global standards.