As emerging technologies like generative artificial intelligence take over media headlines and find themselves top-of-mind for both lawmakers and the White House, one organization argues that the country has reached a pivotal moment in the evolution of online spaces.

That was a top-line takeaway from the Atlantic Council’s new report, “Scaling Trust on the Web,” unveiled by the D.C.-based think-tank on June 21.

“Scaling Trust on the Web” is a comprehensive final report from the organization’s Digital Forensic Research Lab’s Task Force for a Trustworthy Future Web. For the first five months of 2023, the task force convened 40 experts in technology policy, artificial intelligence, trust and safety, civil rights, law, and many other topics to engage in meaningful discussion about both the risks and opportunities of the latest wave of technologies.

“It maps systems-level dynamics and gaps that impact the trustworthiness and usefulness of online spaces,” the organization said of its new report. “It highlights where existing approaches will not adequately meet future needs, particularly given emerging metaversal and generative AI technologies. Most importantly, it identifies immediate interventions that could catalyze safer, more trustworthy online spaces, now and in the future.”

“Scaling Trust on the Web” highlights eight key findings:

  • An emerging trust and safety field creates important new opportunities for collaboration;
  • Academia, media, and civil society bring crucial expertise to building better online spaces;
  • Protecting healthy online spaces requires protecting the individuals who defend them;
  • Learning from mature, adjacent fields will accelerate progress;
  • The gaming industry offers unique potential for insights and innovation;
  • Existing harms will evolve, and new harms will arise as technologies advance;
  • Systemic harm is exacerbated by market failures that must be addressed; and
  • Philanthropies and governments can shape incentives and fill gaps.

The group acknowledged that both the government and philanthropic sectors are “uniquely capable of catalyzing novel and creative pathways to supporting systems-level change,” and made five recommendations to:

  • Craft and implement initiatives that target market failures and incentives gaps;
  • Accelerate the maturation and professionalization of trust and safety as an independent field;
  • Break down knowledge silos and share information and expertise;
  • Protect and grow the enabling environment necessary to innovate more trustworthy, useful online spaces; and
  • Expand investment in proactive, future-facing research and initiatives.

“We are on the precipice of a new digital era. It is our hope that the insights captured in Scaling Trust on the Web galvanize investments in systems-level solutions that reflect the expanding communities dedicated to protecting trust and safety on the web, the trailblazers envisioning the next frontier of digital tools and systems, and the rights holders whose futures are at stake,” the Atlantic Council said.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.