My notes on today’s BBC Radio 4 Digital Human episode on “risk”.

Digital Human: Risk (Series 6 Episode 1) by Bernard Tyers on Mixcloud

Today’s Digital Human 1)BBC Radio 4 Digital Human Programme with Aleks Krotoski covered human perception of risk in the “online age”.

“Our brains are still running security software designed to protect us against lions, tigers and bears and we haven’t run an update for about 200,000 years. Aleks Krotoski explores how well it works when faced with the risks of the digital world.”

It was a very interesting programme. They also didn’t mention the words “threat modelling” once. 🙂

My notes from the programme

  • What’s the riskiest thing you’ll do today?
    • Cycle on the street? Clicking on the attachment?
  • Scientiest says our risk perception system works, “we’re still here!”
    • The problem is it has developed over time, when the risks we had to deal with were much simpler: lions, tigers bears in the dark
    • We have an “inconvienent mind” when it comes to more modern complex risks
    • Because of this, we are getting some risks wrong
    • Our brains’ run the same security software against all risks we come into contact with
      • it hasn’t been updated for over 200,000 years
  • How does our brain handle more modern risks, and
  • Programme introduces “Jersey Lifts”
    • young people give and receive lifts home from a night out, for free (money does change hands…) while living on the island of Jersey
    • most people would not pick strangers up and give them lifts
    • people post they are giving lifts/or that they need a lift on facebook/the website
    • one girl mentions she prefers to get lifts from friends as opposed to taxi drivers
      • that’s the first problem with our risk perception: our decisions are not always rational
    • If the girl is giving a lift to only her friends on the island, whats wrong with that?
      • She is posting her number, availability and location to a public forum of people she couldn’t possibly know
    • Jersey Lifts operates on a “cognitive trick” humans have used offline
      • the girl only gives lifts to people who she already knows directly, or has a “friend” in common
      • the girl contradicts herself by saying she having given a lift to “a friend of a friend”, and this is good as it “increases the connections between young people on the island”
        • she uses this criteria as a was of rationalising that she can then get a benefit of knowing mroe people, and so increase her chances of getting a lift when she needs one
  • Risks have characteristics that make it feel more or less scary
    • “Natural” risks feel less “scary” than human made risk
    • Risk that is imposed on us feel less “scary” than risk we have chosen voluntarily
  • Our level of trust makes us feel more or less afraid
    • It is a powerful risk perception factor to a social animal like us humans
    • Offline if we feel we need to trust someone, we will gauge that trust by finding a common connection and ask them
    • If we don’t have a common connection, we will still trust them, but only based on the information we know about them, what we heard about them, or what we’ve seen them do
    • We trade in social capital which we would have earned by being part of organisations; boy scouts, church groups
      • if someone from your church group asked you for a lift, would you give it to them? (Probably, since you were part of a common entity…)
      • Jersey Lifts exists in a microcosm, small organisation
      • The journalist mentions she has received lifts in microcosms (Isle of Skye) where she was able to introduce an element of consequence (person can’t get away easily) which she has used to accept to take that risk, and make her decision easier
          • Jersey is so small, so if someone did something bad, they would be negatively affected in terms of social capital
          • The girl is taking a calculated risk
            • people “do lifts” in 2 or 3s
            • “It’s a mutual relationship”

        Her Mum doesn’t like her giving lifts, but doesn’t have a problem with her receiving lifts…?

  • Our brain is a survival machine, it is to get us through the day
    • the brain is hardwired to respond with instinct first and conscience objective reasoning second
      • you have a fight or flight response
      • historically this is a good response (think about meeting a snake and instead of running away, you “considered” it. This dangerous response would be “bitten and poisoned out of the gene pool”)
  • Risk is the chance that something bad could happen
    • risk is the probabilty of..
    • something bad being the outcome.
      • “the probability that something bad will happen to us”
  • When we cross the road, we don’t think about the road death statistics (i.e. use our rational thought processes), we do it “when it feels right” (i.e. our instinctive responses)
    • Emotions on judging that risk are contextual; they depend on the circumstances;
      • what would we do if we were crossing the road with a child
  • We are told there are so many unknown risks
    • risks to children scare us more than any risk to adults
      • The media exaggerate the Internet and its risks to children due to this
      • “the risk to children is played up WAY greater than it is, at least statistically in the US. In part because of this instictive, excessive emotional fear we have of any risk, that threatens our kids”
    • There is still a big public, moral panick agenda from the media about the Internet
      • They’ve associated all manner of bad things with the Internet
      • “The Internet does bad things to children, irrespective of who they are or how they use it”
        • Research was carried out with children to understand their usage of the Internet
    • Risk is not the same as harm
      • Crossing the road is risky, but does not mean they will be knocked down.
      • Humans try to apply those real world risks to the online world
        • Most children won’t come to harm when they use the Internet
        • “Even when kids see bad things, like pornpgraphy, they are not necessairly harmed”
      • The researcher wants to answer, 1) what are the conditions that lead to kids using the Internet in risky ways, and 2) what are the conditions that then might lead that to them being put at harm, 3) what are the protections needed in each case
        • The answers may be education of the child or regulation of the Internet (not always the same)
    • Our fears of humans being corrupt is amplified online
      • Threats online are slightly different as the Internet obscures a lot of the ways humans make judgements about trust online and online we are having to work them out. The Internet changes so often, that we have to continuously work out new ways to deal with them; the ways to trust that we use to gauge risk.
    • Risk depends on the point of view
      • Jersey lifts from the point of view of the person giving the lift is different than a taxi driver who has “more to loose”
      • Money does change hands on the Jersey Lifts service; maybe this is the most risky thing of all
      • It has been proven that the most risk comes from those inside your social group, so in fact the Jersey Lifts service, “focusing” on your friends, is more risky; even a gamble
  • The suggestion that using your real name online for an online profile, for example on Facebook, is better for other users to trust your profile
    • We’ve always been scared of strangers
    • Our 200,000 approx. year old  security software in our heads is coming up against the same risks, just in different contexts; judging risk online is more difficult as we have to take into account so many more pieces of data
    • Our security software is very much out of date when we come up against totally new risks
  • Abstract risks are harder for our brains to make correct decisions
    • e.g. climate change
    • viruses that can travel around the world
    • Our instinctual risk perception system is coming up against more complex risks that require reason and logic, and that is not how we react
    • If a risk “feels” like it isn’t going to happen to me, then it doesn’t matter what the facts say abstractly
    • If the abstract risk is harder to see that it applies to you then you are less worried
  • The place where we encounter the most abstract risk, is online
    • Someone with OCD and chronic fatigue syndrome talks about his fear of online security
      • They wiped their PC, and reinstalled their OS at least 3 times a week in the hope that it would give him the confidence to use it for the things he wanted without his anxiety taking over
      • His OCD started with a typical fear of contamination; taps, toilet, etc
        • the fear of computer viruses was a continuation of the fear of contamination
      • He was afraid of risks online
        • His mind was working overtime worrying about people doing bad things, and this was debilitating
      • He knows the fears are feasible but are not likely to happen
  • “White-hat hacker” mention of AUVs and drones
    • Most people can’t concieve that devices in their pockets would leak their personal information
    • They can’t concieve a drone in the sky could be intercepting the data from people’s phones
    • Jersey Lifts can put a face on the person giving/taking the lift:  the known unknown
    • The unseen drone hovering intercepting information: the unknown unknown
    • It’s easy to conceptualise physical risks (car crash) but not abstract risk (being hacked)
  • When risks are more abstract and require more thought; we get them wrong
    • When there is no emotional element; humans often forget about them
  • Society is unaware of a huge risk: the risk of getting risk wrong
    • i.e. that our perceptions don’t match the facts
    • Post Septermber 11 bombing
      • Humans looked to take control of their travel and their safety and so they chose to travel by car/road
      • In the 6 months post sept11, between 500 and 2000 people died in road traffic accidents
  • Taking risks actually is good for humans, it propels us forward
    • The key thing with risk is not that how we choose to manage the risk not if we do or don’t engage with it
    • This applies online as much as offline
  • If we become risk adverse; children will not become resilient online; and they will not meet other people whjo share the same interests
    • They will loose their self control, we make them more risk adverse, and at danger
      • when you cross the road yourself, you become self-sustaining
    • All of the security and public safety work in the physical world over the past 100 years has been to protect humans, and allow them be self-reliable
      • We are not doing this online and so we risk making children less self-reliant
      • We are not using our common-sense like we have been doing it in the offline world
    • “We cant be expected to think of every risk that can exploit us, but we have the knowledge that we can be exploited, and we can demand protection” (questionable)
    • Ambrose Beerson “The brain is only the organ with which we think, we think.”
      • We are subjective, but let’s try and be more rational by building policies and structures that save us from getting in to trouble when our emotions take over decision making
    • The girl doing Jersey Lifts rationalises how she decides on to give lifts to
      • Jersey Lifts tries to digitally verify identites in order to keep herself safe
  • Drones and spy software don’t fit into any compartments in our human minds (not true..but difficult)

References   [ + ]