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Helena Webb

Senior Researcher in Human Centred Computing

I am a social scientist by background and I am interested in interaction and organisation in different kinds of settings. As part of Human Centred Computing at Oxford, I work on projects that investigate the social impacts of new technologies and that seek to identify mechanisms for the improved design, responsible development and effective regulation of innovation. I previously worked on a project called UnBias, which explored the user experience of algorithm driven online platforms and the processes of algorithm design. We developed co-designed recommendations and materials for design, regulation and education to promote ‘fairness’ in algorithmic systems. We also spent a lot of time engaging with members of the public to help them understand what algorithms are and how they can shape the online experience in both positive and negative ways – as explained in our project video. We also developed a ‘fairness toolkit’ comprised of different activities that encourage users to reflect on bias, rights and fairness online. The toolkit materials can be downloaded for free from the UnBias website.

I am currently working on the RoboTIPS project, which seeks to advance responsibility in robotics. We focus in particular on social robots, those that interact with humans as part of their day-to-day function. We ask how robots can be developed responsibly in the contemporary digital economy so that they produce benefits across society. In particular we are developing and testing an innovative design feature for use in the case of accidents involving robots. The Ethical Black Box (EBB) functions similarly to flight data recorders used in aviation. When an incident occurs in which a human is harmed and a robot is present, data from the robot’s EBB can be used to help work out what caused the incident. Steps can then be put into place to ensure the same accident doesn’t happen again. These may involve changes to the design of the robot and/or organisational changes in the way it is used. You can find out more information about the project on the RoboTIPS website.