Oxford Martin School awarded a multi-million research grant to HCC academics, led by Prof Sir Nigel Shadbolt, Prof Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Prof. Max Van Kleek, Prof. Reuben Binns and Dr. Jun Zhao to build the new generation world wide web and promote human autonomy and self-determination in the digital societies.

Thirty years ago, the World Wide Web launched as an open, common, universal infrastructure that anyone with a computer and a modem could use to communicate, publish and access information. In recent years, however, it has radically diverged from the values upon which it was founded, and it is now dominated by a number of platform companies, whose business models and services generate huge profits.

While an original ambition was to foster a Digital Enlightenment, what has developed is the large-scale collection of sensitive data about people’s beliefs, interests, activities and ways of life. This data is used as the input to artificial intelligence (AI) analytics and machine learning (ML) and used to target advertising and direct us to particular content, groups and viewpoints. Individuals are treated as a means of value extraction, with no long-term control or agency over their personal data or many of the decisions made using it.

As the remaining half of the world’s population comes online, we will need digital infrastructures that promote and support human flourishing, individual autonomy and self-determination in our emerging digital societies. To do this we will need to redesign the fundamental information architectures which underpin the web, and deploy new legal and regulatory infrastructures. We use the term architecture to evoke the notion of a carefully designed structure that may be technical or regulatory, a software system, a social process, or typically a combination of all of these.

The programme brings together researchers from Oxford’s Department of Computer Science, Faculties of Law and Philosophy, the Oxford Internet Institute and the Blavatnik School of Government.

The Ethical Web project is expected to kick off officially in early 2021!