Peeling back the surface – what’s behind algorithmic tools?

The ReEntrust project was a 2 year EPSRC funded collaboration between the Universities of Oxford, Nottingham, and Edinburgh, which was focused on ‘rebuilding and enhancing trust in algorithms’, and was a follow-up to the UnBias project. The project aimed to explore user expectations and requirements for the (re)building of trust in online spaces that are mediated by algorithms, e.g., social media and news sites, hotel booking sites, and recruitment platforms, and to examine the potential for technological solutions to trust development, as well as the roles of policy, education, and regulation.

The team at Nottingham – Dr Liz Dowthwaite, Dr Virginia Portillo, Dr Elvira Pérez Vallejos, Dr Ansgar Koene and Dr Helen Creswick – were based in the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute and brought expertise in psychology and sociology, mental health and wellbeing, and ethics and Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). They were in charge of running workshops with young adults (aged 16-25) and older adults (65+) to understand their concerns in relation to trust in online algorithms, and to identify potential solutions, including a measure of online trust known as the Trust Index (Dowthwaite et al, 2020). The team also worked to understand how interacting with algorithms online may affect wellbeing.

This project has particular relevance to the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub (TAS), as in considering how to (re)build trust in algorithms, we must also ensure that they are actually trustworthy in the first place. The project was able to make recommendations as to how to make sure that new and emerging technologies are trustworthy-by-design. Additionally, the ReEnTrust project applied the principles of RRI to all parts of the project, ensuring that a range of stakeholder voices were heard and that each stage of the project was relevant to real-world experiences and concerns.

The ReEnTrust team have been working on disseminating results to a wide audience, and what follows is an exciting announcement from Oxford!

Peeling back the surface – what’s behind algorithmic tools?

The ReEnTrust project is delighted to announce the launch of its new animated video, which aims to unpack some of the mystery in the algorithms we so often encounter but may find it difficult to get to grips with. The video is entitled ‘Algorithms and Us” and draws attention to the pervasive and not-always-positive effects of algorithms on daily life. The project hopes that by discussing some of these effects, and highlighting some of the efforts to mitigate them, we can open a conversation about algorithms in society and the ways they can influence our lives.

Professor Marina Jirotka, head of Oxford’s Responsible Technology Institute and leader of the project, commented, “Algorithms have become one of the prevailing features of modern life, almost without us noticing. We wanted to take this opportunity to look at how they’re affecting individuals, communities and societies, and hopefully give people some tools with which to start questioning these effects.”

ReEnTrust was a collaboration between the Human Centred Computing group at the University of Oxford, the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, and HORIZON Digital Economy Research at the University of Nottingham. It was funded by EPSRC Digital Economy grant EP/R033633/1.

More about ReEnTrust and its outcomes is available here: