The UK Government has announced the development of new software which promises to automatically detect terrorist content on any online platform.
Developed by the Home Office and ASI Data Science, the Government boasted the piece of kit ‘detected 94% of Daesh propaganda with 99.995% accuracy’ during tests, with a small number of videos being reviewed by employees if the software gets confused. The tool can be used by any platform where videos are reviewed during the uploading process, with the aim being to catch the content before it hits the internet.
“Over the last year we have been engaging with internet companies to make sure that their platforms are not being abused by terrorists and their supporters,” said Home Secretary Amber Rudd. “I have been impressed with their work so far following the launch of the Global Internet Forum to Counter-Terrorism, although there is still more to do, and I hope this new technology the Home Office has helped develop can support others to go further and faster.”
It certainly is a different approach to working with the digital community, one which will almost certainly be more successful. The last 12-18 months have seen various governments around the world try to force the technology industry to bend to its will, even when government ideas are to the detriment of users. A collaborative approach such as this, aiding the technology firms as opposed to bitterly arguing with them, is an idea we weren’t expecting.
What we aren’t too sure about is the effectiveness of the technology. Yes, tests have proven it works but we don’t think it will be too long before the nefarious characters have found a way around it. The success of the technology will almost certainly be dependent on how it is adopted and enhanced by the internet giants. The UK Government might well have produced a good technology, but the engineers working for the likes of Facebook, Google or Twitter for example will be smarter. They could take a good idea and turn it into an incredibly resilient and proactive piece of artificial intelligence.
Perhaps these are the discussions which will happen over the next couple of days as Rudd visits Silicon Valley. Rudd has traditionally been very combative, aggressive and self-righteous when it comes to dealing with the technology industry, let’s hope she is able to put her ego aside for these talks. The UK Government will not be able to address the rise in hate speech and terrorist propaganda on its own; working with the technology industry is critical.
What might be an interesting little twist to the story would be if Rudd forces the technology giants to adopt the technology by law. Technologists and innovators are usually quite protective of their platforms and being forced to do something by lethargic legislators might irritate the technology firms. In the first instance, the technology will be used by smaller companies such as Vimeo, Telegraph and pCloud, but it would surprise very few if the Government looked to force the bigger players into adoption as well.
While it has been used for political point scoring and scare mongering in the past, the threat of online extremist propaganda is quite real. The UK Government has identified 400 unique online platforms which were used to push out poisonous material in 2017, while 145 new platforms from July until the end of the year had not been used before.
The success of this technology will be in how it is enhanced in the future. At some point, someone will figure out a way to beat it, trick it or circumnavigate it. The Government will need help in developing its effectiveness for the future. We hope Rudd has this mentality when sitting down with the technology firms. Take a collaborative, open source approach and it could turn out to be a very good idea. Force them into doing something they are not happy with and the technology firms could turn into stubborn teenagers.