A new online safety centre of excellence and six new research projects across the UK will help people seize the possibilities of the digital revolution while addressing challenges to online safety and privacy.
The initiatives are part of a £29 million investment by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and include projects to test how immersive technology can improve people’s education and explore how the Internet of Things can benefit people’s lives and improve their wellbeing.
The package includes £7 million from UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund for a new National Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence online (REPHRAIN) bringing together researchers from the universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Bath, King’s College London and UCL.
REPHRAIN will also work with industry, academics and the voluntary sector to develop new technologies to help human moderators tackle the spread of online disinformation and identify harms linked to online targeting and manipulation.
The centre will develop a world-first Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) test site to trial new ways to boost data privacy.
“The UK’s world-renowned universities and fast-growing safety tech sector are coming up with answers to the important questions of the digital age – around privacy, security and online wellbeing.
“With this investment we are supporting organisations to build trust in the technology of tomorrow so people and businesses can use it to improve their lives and boost the economy.
“Add to that our forthcoming pro-innovation online harms legislation and we will give tech companies the clarity and responsibility to create safer online spaces for future generations to enjoy.”
The government is investing in this research as part of efforts to support the UK’s burgeoning safety tech sector which is creating solutions such as automated content moderation to tackle online harms including disinformation and providing age-appropriate experiences for users.
UKRI will invest £22 million in five Next Stage Digital Economy Centres, delivered by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The centres will explore ways of using technology safely to enhance people’s lives:
The EPSRC contribution of £22 million has leveraged an additional £29.5 million of partner contributions from industry and the universities involved.
“We rely on technology for so many things in our lives – from paying our bills and buying our weekly food shop to tackling climate change and finding new treatments for diseases. We must continue investing so we can keep pushing the boundaries of technological developments that improve our daily lives and transform industries.
“The six new research centres announced today will support our ambitious scientists and researchers to develop incredible innovations such as strengthening our online safety and delivering virtual education and healthcare, helping to cement the UK as a science superpower.”
“New and emerging digital technologies will have a profound impact on many aspects of our lives, from our health and wellbeing to our work and leisure time.
“The investment announced today will not only support new ways of capitalizing on this opportunity but will also help to ensure that those using these new technologies are safe while doing so.”
The centres will be an important part of the government’s ambition for the UK to cement its status as a science superpower, set out in its ambitious Research and Development Roadmap in July this year.
The funding comes as the government moves closer to publishing its response to the Online Harms White Paper consultation – setting out its final decisions on new regulations to put more legal responsibility on online platforms to protect people online.
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