In an era of cyber-crime, misinformation, disinformation, state-sponsored attacks on rival countries’ infrastructure, government-imposed internet shutdowns in places like Eritrea and Kashmir, the World Wide Web is an increasingly dark and troubled place. Making sense of how the internet has changed from the democratic, sharing, open platform it was designed to be, and predicting what’s next, are the web scientists.
Professor Dame Wendy Hall talks with BBC’s Gareth Mitchell about the issues with the web and how we interact with it in our daily lives, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, and why having web scientists is fundamental to how we learn to understand the Web.
We are delighted to announce the appointment of Professor Dame Wendy Hall as Chair of the Ada Lovelace Institute.
Dame Wendy Hall DBE, FRS, FREng is one of the world’s foremost computer scientists and plays a leading role in shaping science and engineering policy and education in the UK and internationally. She is the UK’s first AI Skills Champion and Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, where she is also Executive Director of the Web Science Institute.
Dame Wendy was appointed by the Nuffield Foundation – the independent funder of the Ada Lovelace Institute – following an open recruitment process. Her three-year term as Chair will begin on 1 June 2020, succeeding Sir Alan Wilson, who retired as Executive Chair in February having led the Institute’s development phase.
Dame Wendy co-Chaired the UK government’s AI Review, published in 2017, and is a member of the AI Council, an independent expert committee providing advice to government and high-level leadership of the AI ecosystem in the UK. She is also Executive Director of the Web Science Trust, which has a global mission to support the development of research, education and thought leadership in Web Science.
During her distinguished career, Dame Wendy has been President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the British Computer Society, Senior Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology. She was a founding member of the European Research Council and Chaired the European Commission’s IST Advisory Group from 2010-2012. Her previous international roles include membership of the Global Commission on Internet Governance and the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on the Digital Economy.
Sir Keith Burnett, Chair of the Nuffield Foundation said: ‘Dame Wendy Hall is one of the most influential scientists in the UK and the Nuffield Foundation is delighted to appoint her Chair of the Ada Lovelace Institute. Dame Wendy’s research has been a driving force in the development of her discipline, and through her senior leadership and advisory roles she has shaped science and technology policy both in the UK and internationally.
‘The Ada Lovelace Institute, although a relatively new organisation, is already providing a much-needed independent, evidence-led voice in the public debate on how data and AI should be used in the interests of people and society – most recently in relation to the use of technology in the public health response to the COVID-19 crisis. With Dame Wendy as Chair, I have every confidence the Institute will continue to make progress towards its goal of ensuring the benefits of data and AI are justly and equitably distributed.’
Dame Wendy Hall said: ‘I am very excited to be offered the opportunity to become Chair of the Ada Lovelace Institute. I have been very impressed with what the Institute has achieved since its inception and the commitment of the Nuffield Foundation to its development. This is a wonderful opportunity for me to work with Carly Kind and her team to help ensure the Institute continues to make a significant impact in the world of AI and data ethics by taking an evidence-led approach to the development of policy and practice in this area, which is something I am passionate about.’
Carly Kind, Director of the Ada Lovelace Institute said: ‘Dame Wendy brings to the Ada Lovelace Institute not only her expertise in computer science, but also her pioneering insights into the sociotechnical nature of AI and data-driven systems – a perspective that is critical to the Ada Lovelace Institute’s approach to policy and practice. We are honoured that Dame Wendy will lead our already august Board, deepening the Institute’s expertise in data science and building connections across academia, government and industry.’
About the Ada Lovelace Institute
The Ada Lovelace Institute is a research institute and deliberative body dedicated to ensuring that data and AI work for people and society. In addition to its ongoing work programmes, the Ada Lovelace Institute is currently undertaking research projects to help inform understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on data and AI. Last month it published a rapid evidence review, Exit through the App Store?, to inform how the Government and the NHS adopts technical solutions to aid in the transition from the COVID-19 crisis.
Professor Dame Wendy Hall, CEO of WST and head of Southampton’s WSTnet Lab the Web Science Institute (WSI) features in a new series of short films featuring Fellows of the Royal Society discussing their favourite scientists in history. In an interview with Professor Brian Cox, Dame Wendy talks about the life and works of Alan Turing. His contributions in both theoretical research and engineering have, Hall argues, provided a firm grounding for modern computing and data science.
“Turing’s ability to see what was going to be possible with computers, and how they were going to change the world, even before the first one was built, including the concept that computers might think and in time outperform human beings,” said Dame Wendy. “And of course, his intellectual ability to develop the theory of computation is still the theoretical underpinning of so much of what we do today.
Turin’s work at Bletchley Park delivered vital elements to the solution for cracking intercepted coded messages from the Enigma machine during World War II that enabled the Allies to create an intelligence advantage.
“He fought all his life to achieve what he wanted to achieve despite being ‘different’,” she continued. “He epitomises the battle for equality, diversity and inclusion that we are still struggling with today.”
Dame Wendy was recently named as the only academic to make the 10th annual UKtech50, a list of the most influential people in the UK tech sector published by Computer Weekly. She also appears in a list of the 30 ‘AI gurus’ in Europe to follow on Twitter by Sifted, a new website for the continent’s innovators and entrepreneurs.
Click here to view the film via the BBC iplayer.
WST CEO Prof. Dame Wendy Hall was interviewed at POLITICO Artificial Intelligence: Innovation and Governance Summit 2019.
Below is a link to a video of the interview
Dame Wendy Interview
Today, 30 years on from my original proposal for an information management system, half the world is online. It’s a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come, but also an opportunity to reflect on how far we have yet to go.
The web has become a public square, a library, a doctor’s office, a shop, a school, a design studio, an office, a cinema, a bank, and so much more. Of course with every new feature, every new website, the divide between those who are online and those who are not increases, making it all the more imperative to make the web available for everyone.
And while the web has created opportunity, given marginalised groups a voice, and made our daily lives easier, it has also created opportunity for scammers, given a voice to those who spread hatred, and made all kinds of crime easier to commit.
Against the backdrop of news stories about how the web is misused, it’s understandable that many people feel afraid and unsure if the web is really a force for good. But given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.
To tackle any problem, we must clearly outline and understand it. I broadly see three sources of dysfunction affecting today’s web:
– Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
– System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.
– Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.
While the first category is impossible to eradicate completely, we can create both laws and code to minimize this behaviour, just as we have always done offline. The second category requires us to redesign systems in a way that change incentives. And the final category calls for research to understand existing systems and model possible new ones or tweak those we already have.
You can’t just blame one government, one social network or the human spirit. Simplistic narratives risk exhausting our energy as we chase the symptoms of these problems instead of focusing on their root causes. To get this right, we will need to come together as a global web community.
At pivotal moments, generations before us have stepped up to work together for a better future. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, diverse groups of people have been able to agree on essential principles. With the Law of Sea and the Outer Space Treaty, we have preserved new frontiers for the common good. Now too, as the web reshapes our world, we have a responsibility to make sure it is recognised as a human right and built for the public good. This is why the Web Foundation is working with governments, companies and citizens to build a new Contract for the Web.
This contract was launched in Lisbon at Web Summit, bringing together a group of people who agree we need to establish clear norms, laws and standards that underpin the web. Those who support it endorse its starting principles and together are working out the specific commitments in each area. No one group should do this alone, and all input will be appreciated. Governments, companies and citizens are all contributing, and we aim to have a result later this year.
Governments must translate laws and regulations for the digital age. They must ensure markets remain competitive, innovative and open. And they have a responsibility to protect people’s rights and freedoms online. We need open web champions within government — civil servants and elected officials who will take action when private sector interests threaten the public good and who will stand up to protect the open web.
Companies must do more to ensure their pursuit of short-term profit is not at the expense of human rights, democracy, scientific fact or public safety. Platforms and products must be designed with privacy, diversity and security in mind. This year, we’ve seen a number of tech employees stand up and demand better business practices. We need to encourage that spirit.
And most important of all, citizens must hold companies and governments accountable for the commitments they make, and demand that both respect the web as a global community with citizens at its heart. If we don’t elect politicians who defend a free and open web, if we don’t do our part to foster constructive healthy conversations online, if we continue to click consent without demanding our data rights be respected, we walk away from our responsibility to put these issues on the priority agenda of our governments.
The fight for the web is one of the most important causes of our time. Today, half of the world is online. It is more urgent than ever to ensure the other half are not left behind offline, and that everyone contributes to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity.
The Contract for the Web must not be a list of quick fixes but a process that signals a shift in how we understand our relationship with our online community. It must be clear enough to act as a guiding star for the way forward but flexible enough to adapt to the rapid pace of change in technology. It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.
The web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.