Because you can’t go wrong if you start with a Tom Gauld comic.
A colleague of mine on the UnBias and ReEnTrust projects has just been honored as highly commended by the Emerald Real Impact Awards 2018. As a team we are extremely proud of the work we do surrounding these projects to engage people from all walks of life with the issues that we study. This includes STEM events in the local community, workshops with various types of stakeholders and internet users, policy responses to government, involvement in standards work (I’m very proud to work as secretary of the IEEE Standards Working Group on Algorithmic Bias Considerations), Ethical Hackathons with groups of students… As it is also currently Research Fish reporting season – an extremely painful and time consuming exercise in recording academic and real world impact of our work – I thought I would summarise some of the stuff I have been doing in the more outreachy field in the last year. Science communication in general is very important to me, in both the education aspects and increasing interest and enthusiasm for important topics. It is also great to talk to people outside our academic bubble once in a while!
I promise my colleague was not as bored as she looks.
Around this time last year we took part in events such as the Nottingham Festival of Science and Curiosity, Science in the Park at Wollaton Hall, and Widening Participation days at the University of Nottingham, bringing interactive activities to engage young people in learning about how algorithms are used in our online lives. Around this time we also started to plan a Video Competition asking students in years 7 to 13 to create responses to our Our Future Internet animation. The results (which we judged at the end of 2018) were both hilarious and impressive. I hope the winners will be online soon for me to share with you. I also worked with the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon to run a 5-hour workshop called Digiplay as part of their Techtopia festival with a group of 8-14 year olds. We played a series of games designed to help them to learn how their information is used to make decisions about them online, and then they put on plays imagining a future run by algorithms! Horrifying(ly funny) stuff! I even talked about it on BBC Click. At the other end of the youth spectrum, in the summer I was invited to be a mentor at a Legal Design Sprint hosted by Justis and City University. My team of undergraduate law students tackled social media terms and conditions, and went on to win first prize! (super proud-mum moment!)
UnBias Fairness Toolkit
Most of what I have been doing recently involved taking the UnBias Awareness Cards to various events to explore issues of fairness and bias in the online world. These cards are a wonderful way into discussing the issues, although they can be daunting to the uninitiated – there are 63 cards and any one of them could be the basis for a 20-30 minutes discussion. The cards were created in collaboration with 13-17 year olds and so we have been back to these groups to show them the fruits of their labour, which has been really fun. Special thanks to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson school in Islington for continuing to host us. As well as this, we have been trying to get the cards out to as many groups as possible. Watch this space to see the results of the Impact Accelerator Award we won to explore ways of using them with different age groups. We have created a series of card games for others to use to facilitate their own session and the report will be out soon(ish).
In September this year we were part of the Digital Design Weekend at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. We had a variety of interactive tasks that were designed to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in thinking about their digital lives. It was one of the first events where we introduced the cards ‘in the wild’ and it was a really great weekend. In October I took the cards to SOAS and ran a workshop with 2 groups of undergraduate students with the cards, discussing the issues with a freedom-of-speech slant. I hope to be able to go back there and continue the collaboration. As well as the cards, this event also made use of the TrustScape part of the toolkit, which encourages people to consider their own experiences of online bias and unfairness, and to consider potential solutions to the problems encountered. The aim of this part of the toolkit is to feedback completed TrustScapes illustrating real problems that users encounter to the various stakeholders involved, and to get them to respond in kind. We also used the TrustScapes at a couple of events held during the ESRC Festival of Social Science in November. We ran the same event with 16-25 year olds and 65+ year olds, looking at concerns surrounding trust in the online platforms that we use every day. It was a great lead in to our next project, ReEnTrust.
Apparently I wave my arms a lot when I talk.
Ansgar and I co-ran an event for the Internet Society in November. We ran a workshop on algorithmic awareness building for user trust in online platforms. As a direct result of this workshop, we were invited to take part in the Change Forum, an event organised by News UK with the product and service innovation company Fluxx. It was a really great event with people who work at the intersection of the media and technology, and I ran a workshop with a couple of colleagues on the ‘Human Bias in Artificial Intelligence’ which stimulated much debate and consideration – it was heartening to find that it was quite difficult to get people to become an ‘evil’ algorithm that behaved unethically. Planning for the event meant working quite closely with the good folk at Fluxx, so I must thank them for hosting me at their offices to run through the cards, and particularly Digby Killick for the help in further refining the activities. We are hoping to run a similar event internally with News UK soon.
Most recently we took part in the Nottingham Festival of Science and Curiosity again, taking our cards to the Nottingham Central Library to run a series of quick introductions with members of the public. We also took part in the festival last year where we ran a youth jury. This is a really great event with families and schools roaming the city to find out about all things STEM in a variety of interesting and interactive ways. In a similar vein, at the end of March we will be taking part in another Widening Participation event at the University of Nottingham aimed at primary schools in the local area.
And now for something completely different
Mars is cool.
Aside from talking about algorithms and playing with decks of cards, I was also involved in another exciting project in the last year: MarsCAPE. To quote the website, “MarsCAPE is a project funded by the UK Space Agency’s “Space For All” Community Funding Scheme 2016. It utilises physical models of the Martian surface focussed on ExoMars mission sites, laser cut using the latest Digital Elevation data, upon which information about the environment is digitally projected. Its key objective is to provide the public with a novel perspective on the dynamic nature of the Martian surface, unobtainable from 2D or 3D data in isolation, and compare the geological processes that have created it with those on Earth.” What it means for me is that I got to go to the National Space Centre and play with models of Mars, to education students about the surface of the red planet and promote interest in space exploration. I was certainly both educated and interested.
Phew. Turns out I did quite a lot, and I really enjoyed all of it. I leave you with a message from my captain: