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Protecting Vulnerable Populations in the Digital Society

Reflecting on our workshop at the University of Oxford

Sitting in our idyllic, quad-facing collegiate venue at the University of Oxford, listening to experts in their field share knowledge with a twinkle of passion in their eyes and urgency in their voices, I was astonished at how diverse the topics discussed were — yet all topics shared a binding ingredient. That shared ingredient explored how societies and social interactions are being recalibrated by technology.

The research papers presented at this event - with special thanks to Prof Ying Yu, Scopium resident Director of its Digital Research Cluster, who brought about the opportunity for our participation - examined a range of topics. These included the mark of technology on daily life; how individuals utilise technology; and the challenges that individuals, consumers, children, lovers, societies and researchers face, all with a sincere concern for protecting vulnerable populations. The speakers were seeking to bring peace and resolution, questioned policies and definitions, illuminated on potential future challenges in AI, and discussed gaps in academia and policy due to the ‘misuse’ of data and lack of insight.

The workshop began with a presentation by Prof Bernie Hogan of the Oxford Internet Institute on the potential of ‘what can be’ with the development of AI (for better and worse), focusing on virtual people and ‘likeness’ in AI photos, highlighting the different ‘twist and turns’ societies will come against in the future. This knowledge provides a glimpse into how powerful people’s creativity will become in the future, as private individuals will be able to materialise their visions in AI photos. The workshop continued with the heartbreak of fraudulent digital romances. It was truly shocking to see the number of victims and the financial toll it took upon society, only to realise that the data is scattered in such a way it was impossible to estimate how many individuals are exposed hybrid romance fraud. Prof Marie-Helen Maras of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY illustrated how this fraud perpetrated; why it is problematic to approach fraud as one category; and the benefits of slowing down the process of money exchange to prevent fraud.

The next talk covered research done in the UN about consumer vulnerability, stemming from ongoing difficulties to deliver online dispute resolution and the deteriorating sense of trust and confidence between consumers and providers. Although it is estimated that by 2040 95% of all consumers will be online, societies are lacking a framework to approach dispute resolutions and regulators are unsure of what to do. Prof Ying Yu and Dr Alex Chung (Partner, Scopium) have taken it upon themselves to explore and offer solution to this salient issue which touches the lives of many people across the world. Next, our workshop moved to talk about children and how they play in the digital space. Dr Kruakae Pothong (Expert, Scopium) shared her fascinating research which empowered children to tell us about the key challenges they experience in digital play. The framework that her research offers for a safe and secure digital space was developed based on children voices and provided necessary insight into how to protect children, as well as maximise their creativity and learning in the process.

We finished our workshop with two talks that questioned how we know what we know. That is, Prof Stan Gilmour (Expert, Scopium) and Dr Dana Segev (Executive Director, Scopium) uncovered methodological ‘flaws’ on which knowledge into vulnerable populations is based. Prof. Stan Gilmour illustrated how key data into vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system can be overlooked or misinterpreted. He touched upon issues related to unnecessary criminalisation, mental health, and challenges related to gender, highlighting how important it is to not ‘misuse’ data, but stressing that the ‘missed use’ of data can lead to increased public safety risks. Dr Dana Segev continued exploring the importance of finding ‘hidden’ data into vulnerable populations, which is often harder to reach, analyse and represent accurately in findings. Her talk illustrated how policy makers are not well positioned to develop policies to protect vulnerable populations. A key aspect of her talk was how these challenges are related to technology and ethics, discussing the particularities of why data is ‘hidden’ and misused, and offered practical solutions to share, analyse, and compare data better.


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