The use of technology to perpetrate domestic abuse, referred to as tech abuse, has become increasingly common. Domestic abuse charity Refuge reported that in 2019, 72% of women accessing its services said that they had been subjected to technology-facilitated abuse. Common devices such as smartphones and tablets can be misused to stalk, harass, impersonate and threaten victims. Some groups have raised concerns that the growing use of internet-connected home devices (such as smart speakers) may provide perpetrators with a wider and more sophisticated range of tools to harm victims. How is technology being used to perpetrate domestic abuse, how can this be prevented and what role can technology play in supporting victims?

People’s behaviour has a major role in the success of test, trace and isolate programmes. Uncertainty about whether to report symptoms, low perceived risk of COVID-19 disease and concerns about the consequences of self-isolation are among the barriers to adherence. Has the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies looked at adherence to TTI? What evidence is there on people’s understanding and willingness to be tested, provide contact details and self-isolate? Is there anything that can be done to improve this?

Test, trace and isolate programmes across the UK are under pressure as COVID-19 cases rise in all age groups and demand for tests grows. Further pressure comes from people seeking tests because they have symptoms caused by other respiratory viruses but need a test in order to rule out COVID-19. The Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies has described the impact of current test and tracing on the transmission of the virus as “marginal”. How does test and trace work and what are the current challenges limiting its effectiveness in reducing COVID-19 cases?

  • Horizon scanning

    POST has published 20 COVID-19 Areas of Research Interest (ARIs) for the UK Parliament. ARIs were identified using the input of over 1,000 experts. They were then ranked in order of interest to UK Parliament research and select committee staff, following internal feedback. Each ARI comes with a series of questions aiming to further break down each broad area. The ARIs focus on the impacts of the global pandemic and range from economic recovery and growth, to surveillance and data collection, long-term mental health effects, education, vaccine development, and the NHS.

  • POSTnote

    Machine learning (ML, a type of artificial intelligence) is increasingly being used to support decision making in a variety of applications including recruitment and clinical diagnoses. While ML has many advantages, there are concerns that in some cases it may not be possible to explain completely how its outputs have been produced. This POSTnote gives an overview of ML and its role in decision-making. It examines the challenges of understanding how a complex ML system has reached its output, and some of the technical approaches to making ML easier to interpret. It also gives a brief overview of some of the proposed tools for making ML systems more accountable.

  • Rapid response

    Contact tracing apps could be used to control the COVID-19 outbreak. Most of them work by automatically registering another smartphone when it is close by for a set period of time. If the user then tests positive for COVID-19 in the future, the contact tracing app notifies these contacts. Concerns have been raised about misuse of personal data. Initial data suggests there has been slow uptake of this new technology by users, and it's unclear if contact tracing apps have had or will affect the pandemic. Northern Ireland, Scotland, and now England and Wales have recently launched contact tracing apps.

  • Work programme

    A POSTnote on digital skills for life will discuss the digital skills required for everyday life and employment, why parts of the population may lack these skills and which groups are most affected. It will consider the impact of the skills shortage on individuals and the economy as well as strategies to improve the population’s digital skills. Provisional start date: January 2021.

  • POSTnote

    Evolving life sciences and agricultural research approaches may have a decreasing need to access physical resources in future, such as plant seeds or viral material. Information and genetic data may be all that is required for commercial exploitation of biological resources. This POSTnote summarises the challenge this creates for international discussions on the governance of genetic resources and the possible options for addressing these.

  • POSTnote

    There is increasing interest in using machine learning to automatically analyse remote sensing data and increase our understanding of complex environmental systems. While there are benefits from this approach, there are also some barriers to its use. This POSTnote examines the value of these approaches, and the technical and ethical challenges for wider implementation.

  • POSTnote

    Extremism is possible in any ideology, including (but not limited to) politics and religion. Extremism can affect mental well-being, amplify hostility and threaten democratic debate. The global reach of the internet poses social and technological challenges for safeguarding citizens from extremism online. When the Commission for Countering Extremism surveyed over 2500 members of the public in 2019, 56% agreed that a lot more should be done to counter extremism online. This POSTnote outlines how the online environment can be used for extremist purposes, how exposure to online extremism can influence people and potential strategies to counter extremist content online.

  • POSTnote

    Online technologies are an integral part of many children’s lives. In 2017, the Children’s Commissioner for England identified shortcomings in online safety education and a number of stakeholders have called for action to increase ‘digital literacy’ in the UK. Upcoming changes to the curriculum mean that aspects of online safety will be taught in all schools from 2020. This POSTnote gives an overview of how children use the internet and the opportunities and risks it presents. It provides an overview of current online safety teaching in schools and elsewhere and how this will be affected by changes in the curriculum. It also looks at the role of content filtering and age verification technologies to improve online safety.

  • POSTnote

    Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) measure brain activity and can be used to control digital devices. The focus of BCI development has been on using the technology to allow patients to control assistive equipment such as wheelchairs or prostheses. Beyond medicine they are under development for applications in entertainment, marketing and defence. This POSTnote looks at the underpinning technology, its applications and the associated ethical and regulatory challenges.