Google’s plan to make talk less toxic

An angry man shouting Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Online comments can be aggressive

"Never read below the line" - that has become sensible advice for anyone tempted to look at online comments.

The depressingly toxic nature of internet conversations is of increasing concern to many publishers. But now Google thinks it may have an answer - using computers to moderate comments.

The search giant has developed something called Perspective, which it describes as a technology that uses machine learning to identify problematic comments. The software has been developed by Jigsaw, a division of Google with a mission to tackle online security dangers such as extremism and cyberbullying.

The system learns by seeing how thousands of online conversations have been moderated and then scores new comments by assessing how "toxic" they are and whether similar language had led other people to leave conversations. What it's doing is trying to improve the quality of debate and make sure people aren't put off from joining in.

Image copyright Google
Image caption In this example the most "toxic" comments are hidden

Jared Cohen of Jigsaw explains three ways Perspective could be used: by websites to help moderate comments, by users wanting to choose the level of rudeness they see in the online conversations they take part in, and by people wanting to restrain their own behaviour.

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Driverless cars - no halfway house?

Ford car Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ford is developing autonomous vehicles

The progress in driverless car technology over recent years has been astounding. A future when you can hop in and have a sleep while an autonomous vehicle takes you to your destination appears to be closer than anyone thought just five years ago.

Getting there, however, will involve quite a few stages, with cars getting more and more autonomous but human drivers still having some role. Or will it?

Read full article Driverless cars - no halfway house?

Tech Tent: Indian rockets, password confusion and the parenting app

Rory Cellan-Jones

On my technology podcast this week, we find out what a record-breaking satellite launch says about India's technology ambitions.

We also discuss whether there's a better, simpler way to use passwords online, and we talk to the entrepreneur using dating app techniques to connect mums.

Read full article Tech Tent: Indian rockets, password confusion and the parenting app

Should you take your phone to the United States?

A smartphone in a case showing the US flag Image copyright Getty Images

"The next time you plan to cross a border, leave your phone at home."

That is the rather startling advice in a blogpost that is being widely shared right now.

Read full article Should you take your phone to the United States?

Whitehall’s identity crisis: HMRC and Verify

gov.uk Verify Image copyright gov.uk

Verify is the flagship of the Government Digital Service (GDS). It's an online identity system designed to let citizens securely access all sorts of public services with ease. But now it has competition from another branch of government, HMRC.

This week, HMRC revealed that it was working on its own "identity solution" for individuals and businesses, while mentioning in an offhand way that "other departments will use gov.uk Verify for all individual citizen services".

Read full article Whitehall’s identity crisis: HMRC and Verify

Tech Tent: Robots, radio and Indian phones


This week we roam far and wide in our search for the top trends in tech, from the history of robots, to a huge battle for dominance in the Indian mobile phone market, and an innovative way of interacting with your radio.

Image copyright Carl Court
Image caption The exhibition shows off both old and new robots

Robots and jobs

This week a major exhibition on the history of robots opened at London's Science Museum. It tracks our relationship with humanoid devices from the 16th century right up to the present day, where robots embedded with artificial intelligence are encroaching on all sorts of jobs.

Read full article Tech Tent: Robots, radio and Indian phones

Streetlife users in Nextdoor privacy row

Nextdoor app Image copyright Nextdoor

It was meant to be a neighbourly get-together - but the takeover of the UK's Streetlife website by America's Nextdoor has left many British users deeply unhappy with the new arrangements.

It has also revealed a transatlantic cultural chasm in attitudes to privacy.

Read full article Streetlife users in Nextdoor privacy row

Shopping robots on the march in Ocado

Media captionThe Ocado warehouse run by robots

There is growing concern about the impact of automation on employment - or in crude terms - the threat that robots will eat our jobs.

But if you want to see how important robotics and artificial intelligence can be to a business Ocado is a good place to start.

Read full article Shopping robots on the march in Ocado

US neighbours' network Nextdoor buys UK's Streetlife

Nextdoor home page Image copyright Nextdoor
Image caption US network Nextdoor is buying the UK platform Streetlife

How do you build an online community that isn't an echo chamber and doesn't descend into an ugly shouting match?

Make it local, is the answer from two neighbourhood networks, one British, one American, that are getting together.

Read full article US neighbours' network Nextdoor buys UK's Streetlife

Tech Tent: Silicon Valley strikes back

Rory Cellan-Jones

The week began with Silicon Valley bosses coming out of their shells and speaking out against President Trump's immigration policy.

But by the end they were turning their minds to other matters - some spectacular results from Facebook and Apple and the prospect of the biggest stock market debut by a tech firm for years.

Read full article Tech Tent: Silicon Valley strikes back