Explainability and AI

Explain Yourself Algorithm!

This week we’re wondering how an algorithm might be able to explain itself. And we’re joined by David Watson. David is a Doctoral candidate at the Oxford Internet Institute. He focusses on the epistemological foundations of machine learning and used to be a data scientist at Queen Mary’s Centre for Translational Bioinformatics.

Before we’ve spoken about the ethics of different automated systems making decisions, whether that’s decisions that relate to policing, healthcare, justice or finance. How can we understand that decision? How can we ensure that the decision was fair and unbiased? There is both a legal and a technical aspect of explainability. The legal aspect asks how we audit systems and uphold the algorithms that organisations build. The technical aspect asks how we build explainability into our systems.

Links mentioned whilst we chatted

David mentioned some papers about medical applications. He suggests the following papers to take a look at [1] and [2]

We talked about FATML – the organisation that looks into fairness, accountability and transparency in Machine Learning. Here is their website.

Books we like: Cathy O’Neil with Weapons of Math Destruction, Safiya Noble with Algorithms of Oppression and Virginia Eubanks with Automating Inequality.

We also spoke about Sandra Wachter who does loads on this stuff. Her Twitter can be found here.


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Identity and the Alt-Right

Digital Identity and the Alt-Right

Today we’re looking at the new alt-right identities forming online. What is new about new digital identities in an internet era compared to before? How should we taxonomise and think about them. Are there specific identities which we should give attention to and not?

We couldn’t have recorded this episode without Sid. Sid Venkataramakrishnan is a Master’s student studying the digital identity of the far-right at the OII. He has an MS in Journalism from Columbia, likes Old Irish, and once survived a flash flood.

There was so much covered in this week’s episode – as discussed at the end we’ve decided not to link to too much of it. However, here are some links that we’re happy to share.

Links to topics covered in the podcast

If you wanna learn more about Old Irish then here’s an FAQ I found about how you can woo your partner of choice in this medieval language.

This article by Vox on Gamergate is fab. I’m also going to self-promote and say you should read this article by me from a couple of years ago on how I learned about the alt-right.

Here’s another piece of self-promotion from Alice about The Crisis of Meaning. I’ll be speaking about this a lot more in the coming months.

Show us some love!

Pleasecontact Alice here, and contact Andrew here. These are our Twitters: @alicelthwaite and @agstrait. Sid can be contacted via Twitter here: @SVR13

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See you next time!

The Ethics of Reddit

The Ethics of Reddit

Too many times we’ve heard that Reddit is the ‘most ethical’ social media site. So we wanted to explore what that really means with Jack La Violette. Jack’s background is in linguistics and anthropology. At the OII where he researches the language of masculinity on reddit.com from a computational perspective.

Reddit is known as the ‘front page of the internet’. It’s effectively a link aggregator which is divided into different topics called ‘sub-reddits’. When you sign up to Reddit there are about 50 subreddits that you’re automatically signed up to which are liked r/news and r/sport and then there are about 90,000 other active subreddits. Most accounts are anonymous and it has an upvoting system which determines which articles you’re more likely to see.

Interesting Links

We discussed Gamergate. My (Alice’s) favourite guide to Gamergate comes from Vox. Read it here. Andrew mentioned an article by Adrienne Massanari: “#Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures

Doxxing is potentially one of the worst things that you can do to a person. It’s when you make public incredibly personal information about an individual, usually to shame them. I’ve heard of medical health records being amended by doxxers so a person cannot get a job. Here’s a bit more info from The Conversation.

Aaron Swartz was a genius who founded Reddit, and was an activist for freedom of information. He committed suicide in January 2013 after the US authorities threatened to fine him for $1 million and throw him in prison for 35 years. Here’s an obituary.

Here’s a brief guide to the rise and fall of Ken Bone.

Finally, here’s an excellent article by Alissa Centivany that gives an overview of the values of Reddit.

We don’t just want to speak at you

Pleasecontact Alice here, and contact Andrew here. These are our Twitters: @alicelthwaite and @agstrait.

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Catch you next time

Can the internet be safe?

Can the internet be safe?

Deputy Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, Vicki Nash, joins us this week to discuss internet safety and internet regulation. Vicki is responsible for presenting OII research as evidence at government policy meetings, so she has a unique insight into how UK Parliament is approaching internet governance.

Internet Safety

We spoke about this Internet Safety Green Paper published by the Government. Key points as follows:

  • What is unacceptable offline should be unacceptable online;
  • All users should be empowered to manage online risks and stay safe;
  • Technology companies have a responsibility to their users.

Internet Regulation

Vicki recently gave evidence to this inquiry: “The internet: to regulate or not to regulate?

Interesting Links

More information about the Australian Cyber Abuse Initiative can be found here.

Here’s a link to the Santa Clara Principles on Content Moderation.

Vicki mentioned Jonathan Zittrain’s views on Private Sheriffs. Watch a lecture he gave on this subject at the OII.

We mentioned video platform Musical.ly. Take a look here.

Our contact details

Please email Alice here, and Andrew here. Or tweet at us! We’re at: @alicelthwaite and @agstrait. Vicki Nash can be found on twitter here: @VickiNashOII

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Til next time!

Information Control in the Arab Region

Information Control in the Arab Region

We tend to focus on Western democracies on TWAAATS, but this week we wanted to understand what information control is being placed on citizens in the Arab region. Mona Elswah joins us this week to educate us on the impact social media is having on this region and the governments’ response post Arab Spring. She is a researcher at Computer Propaganda project and a DPhil student at the OII.

What is information control?

For this episode, we mean the interference that governments have over what information is shared and censored amongst their citizens. In 2011, the Arab Spring resulted in the toppling of the Tunisian dictator. The organisation of this protest was (at least in part) attributed to the power granted to the citizen by social media sites like Facebook. The leaders and dictators in this region are now aware of the power of social media. Consequently, they seek to control it.

Send us some love!

Please email Alice here, and Andrew here. Or tweet to us! We’re at: @alicelthwaite and @agstrait. Mona  can be found on twitter here: @monaelswah

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Catch you next time


Principled Artificial Intelligence

Google's Artificial Intelligence Principles (AI

Nahema Marchal joins us this week to discuss Google’s newly published ‘AI principles‘. Nahema is a colleague of ours at the OII, she is the co-chair of the Connected Life conference and is interested in online drivers of partisan hostility.

Interesting Links and Definitions

Artificial Intelligence definition: the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. (Ironically, this has been taken directly from Google).

Google and Warfare: Google employees protest company involvement in warfare technology Read more in the i.

Here’s the PAI – the Partnership on AI.

Here’s AI Now.

Finally, here’s Data & Society’s website.

We spoke about science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke and his third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Read the wiki.

Slide into our DMs 😊

You may contact Alice here, and contact Andrew here. These are our Twitters: @alicelthwaite and @agstrait. Nahema can be found on twitter @nahema_marchal.

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Apologies for the slight delay in uploading this podcast. We’ve had a backlog of work to get through – but we promise we’ve got some really exciting guests and topics coming up in the next few weeks! So bear with us! 🙂

Catch you next time

GDPR – the Aftermath

Finally, we’ve received our last email from a company that we didn’t even realise had our data, pleading for us to opt-in to their newsletter. So how do we feel about the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) post-25th May? Alice and Andrew discuss.

Links and People

Helen Nissenbaum’s paper ‘Privacy in Context’

James Williams book ‘Stand Out of Our Light

Sandra Wachter’s twitter is here and Brent Mittelstadt’s is here. Their paper on algorithmic explanation via counterfactuals can be found here.

Contact us 😊

Contact Alice here, and contact Andrew here. These are our Twitters: @alicelthwaite and @agstrait.

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If you’re in the business of giving reviews on iTunes – then please give a positive review for us!

Digital Government and Democratic Engagement

Digital Government and Citizen Engagement

Megan Beretta, co-founder of Ottawa Civic Tech and The Canadian Digital Service, joins us this week to discuss digital democracy and how citizens should engage in a healthy state.

There was a LOT to cover. We’ll probably do this again with Meg at some point. But here are some links to check out…

Digital Democracy Think Tanks and Lobby Groups

Democracy Club

WebRoots Democracy

Trust and Democracy

Andrew spoke about Tony Judt’s book ‘Ill Fares the Land’. You can read a review by the Guardian here.


I (Alice) am a huge fan of agonism right now and I’m really interested in how it can help shape the design of internet communication platforms. Fundamentally, agonism states that any appeals to ‘rationality’ or what is ‘reasonable’ can only be called this because of the dominant discourse in society. For example, what we believed is rational in 11th century England is very different from what we would call rational today. However, deliberative democrats state that we give legitimacy to the power of our political institutions through a rational consensus. This comes about through deliberation. I kinda reject this. However, the main criticism of agonism states that we need to have consensus in some manner in order to progress. I agree with this statement, but I don’t believe it’s a good criticism of agonism. You can highlight the power structures in political institutions and design communication platforms in a way that helps identify these conflicts. You can also see disagreement as a good and democratic thing. But you can have political institutions on top of these things that promote consensus. It’s just that these political institutions don’t have legitimacy through deliberation.

If you wanna know more then check out the Agonist wiki, email me, or pick up a book on agonism (though I’m not sure which are the good ones rn… I’m ploughing my way through Mouffe’s primary texts and in parts they are v v v heavy). Maybe we’ll do a podcast on this soon.

YOU make us look good 🙂

PLEASE TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW TO LISTEN TO US. Tell your favourite celebrity to tweet about us. Follow us. Contact us. Love us!

Contact Alice here, and contact Andrew here. These are our Twitters: @alicelthwaite and @agstrait. Megan is found on Twitter @megberetta.

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See you all next week! (In a kinda way where we’re not seeing you, but you hear us, and we don’t actually know who you all are… So email us!)

The Pathetic Dot

Lawrence Lessig Pathetic Dot Theory

Wendy Bradley from Saïd Business School (another organisation which has not officially endorsed TWAAATS) joins us this week to talk about internet regulation. Wendy is a postdoc who is a specialist in technological innovation and entrepreneurial finance.

This podcast is about tech ethics – however – we think it is important to not only talk about the specific applications where we need ethics, but also the theories we can use to think about ethics and regulation. One of these is the Pathetic Dot theory by Lawrence Lessig. You can read up on theory here. Lessig believes that there are 4 components to regulation:

  1. Law
  2. Social Norms
  3. Market
  4. Architecture

So if you have a pathetic dot, this dot is constrained in doing what it can do via these 4 aspects. The dot cannot fly because of gravity (architecture). It cannot murder because of the law and social norms. It cannot buy a gold grand piano with aerodynamic wings because of the market.

We discuss where we should focus our attention when it comes to tech ethics. Wendy is awesome and very funny so we hope you enjoy the episode!

Various links and images

We are designing the architecture of the web right now. This has massive implications for what we can do with the internet. We spoke about the ‘hourglass’ image that shows the different layers of the applications and infrastructure of the internet. Here it is!

If you’re interested in Digital Rights Management then check out the wiki here.

Victor Mayer-Schönberger Twitter can be found here.

This is the Planet Money podcast.

UK Ninja Warrior Appearance

If (like us) you were dying to see Wendy’s appearance on UK Ninja Warrior then you can check out here:

A desperate plea for you to make us popular…

PLEASE TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW TO LISTEN TO US. Tell your favourite celebrity to tweet about us. Follow us. Contact us. Love us!

Contact Alice here, and contact Andrew here. These are our Twitters: @alicelthwaite and @agstrait.

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See you next week folks!

Designing for Inclusion

We’re joined by Matt Pierri this week to discuss how tech companies, large and small, can design their products to be inclusive towards people with disabilities. 1 in 5 of us have a disability of some kind, and working to ensure that tech hardware and software is as accessible as possible will have a huge impact on society. Matt is an Australian lawyer completed Masters in public policy last year and now is with us at the Oxford Internet Institute.

We didn’t talk about specific articles per-se, but we did mention Diversity the dance troupe in the UK. If didn’t watch Britain’s Got Talent in 2009 (or Celebrities Go Dating last year…) here’s a link: