Rachel Coldicutt Profile picture
Technology policy person exploring careful innovation. Formerly CEO of @doteveryone; currently researching, advising and writing.
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18 Oct
Fun little nugget I just discovered in the National Data Strategy is the action in s.4.2.1 to “implement the recommendations of the Joined up data in government” paper gov.uk/government/pub…
The paper describes itself as setting out to, "engage with the data linkage community across government, academia, the third sector and internationally to understand challenges faced and identify state-of-the-art data linking methods to help realise those benefits."
But I’d go as far as saying it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It comes across as a fairly technocratic guide to improving methodologies. Privacy experts are better placed than I to assess its approach to Privacy-Preserving Record Linkage. But - dear reader - it buries the lede.
Read 10 tweets
17 Oct
Fun Saturday morning thread. I am *still* reading the National Data Strategy (who knew - one of my least fun epic struggles) and it really is object lesson in what a strategy isn’t.
I know all these ridiculous vision - mission - strategy - plan - aims - objectives are hard to differentiate, but a “strategy” is not a vision of how things could be if magic was real and it was possible to achieve and maintain several opposing outcomes at the same time.
This is my favourite definition from Roger Martin, gleaned via @russelldavies years ago. "Don’t mistake non-choices for strategy” bridgespan.org/insights/libra…
Read 7 tweets
16 Oct
Can anyone point me to the latest indication of what might be in scope for the Online Harms Bill pls? Have sort of zoned out of this for a while, and am just picking through some of the potential regulatory implications of the National Data Strategy.
In particular the CDEI recommendation that online targeting is regulated by the “online harms regulator” gov.uk/government/pub…
Also is anyone putting in a response to the Data Strategy that is very extremely pro x-gov/biz/public sector data sharing pls? If you’re willing to share I’d be v interested to know what standards and intermediaries you’re advocating for.
Read 4 tweets
7 Oct
Good morning good morning. Listening to this evidence session on UK ARPA.
Always v impressed with Greg Clarke’s chairing of this committee - noting that he is picking up on the very important question of who the customer would be for ARPA, and who gets to set the challenges for the future of the country. Is it the government? Researchers?
Of course no one has mentioned *citizens* or *civil society* which I ofc feel is at least part of the answer.
Read 40 tweets
5 Oct
This is interesting (need to hear verbatim to be sure), but if system being blamed rather than human error, how many days till we get a “mutant spreadsheet” comment from PM, I wonder?
Meanwhile, I bet Microsoft are just plain old *deeee-lighted* about this.
Also, how long till we have all committed to memory the number of rows in an XLSX file? What strange days these are.
Read 4 tweets
25 Sep
Looking at the ministerial forward to the UK National Data Strategy, I find myself intrigued by this line - “positioning the UK as a global champion of data use” - and its possible meaning gov.uk/government/pub…
Later on in the strategy it says, "When we refer to data, we mean information about people, things and systems.” So, the UK will become a global champion of using information about people, things and systems?
I am not at all against the odd rhetorical flourish, but I would like to know what that means and how we will know when we’ve achieved it.
Read 4 tweets
24 Sep
This will not be the big technology story today, but this is incredibly concerning: "Big tech
should be persuaded to provide, for free, the wiring of our social infrastructure.”

If you were wondering, my respone is no, no, no, no, no.
In a democracy, social infrastructure should be decoupled from ad tech and surveillance.
In fact, in this report, I have called for the reverse - for a Community Tech Stack. glimmersreport.net If you support that, please do get in touch. Contact details on the website.
Read 6 tweets
24 Sep
It is, indeed, here. After much anticipation, the NHS COVID App. I’m not a privacy expert, but having been talked through the way the data is handled in a preview the other day - decentralised, anonymised - I’m happy to download it for exposure notification.
My feeling is we need to give it a go and see if it works.

My underlying concern is that the app is extremely reliant on (1)
joined up, consistent comms about risk, (2) tests being available and (3) results being processed quickly.
I know some privacy campaigners are unhappy about the QR codes, but I gather the model for this was New Zealand, which seems to be working well. I’m not sure if that function necessarily belongs in this app, but 🤷🏻‍♀️. It’s there and there’s no compulsion to use it.
Read 5 tweets
20 Sep
Is it too late to stop the sale of popular behavioural economics books in both the Westminster and Islington postcodes?
Bets on what’s coming next - alchemy or phrenology?
Or maybe just Getafix. Getafix, the Asterix druid
Read 4 tweets
17 Sep
I do not love this *not one bit* - and the “No way not never” column is stacked much higher than the “Well, maybe if we’re desperate” one - but if Amazon take over test and trace it might actually hit some targets.
And tbh the general chaos and running down of public services has made this inevitable. This is not that different to how I imagined Brexit and big tech might shake out at the end of 2018.
Whichever way you look at it, privatisation-by-incompetence is a sorry state of affairs.
Read 7 tweets
17 Sep
Expect more of this. The less well-prepared govt is for big ticket Brexit items, the more susceptible they will be to “oven-ready” technology from 3rd parties.
Oh DEAR LORD: ‘The software, the document predicts, will help to bring about “delivery of one of the best borders in the world for 2025”.’
Worth noting that Palantir will have access to data from 4 govt departments.
Read 16 tweets
15 Sep
TIL - while reading “Imagineers of War” by Sharon Weinberger - that Eisenhower signed off the creation of ARPA in 1958 despite (1) a note of formal disagreement from the Joint Chiefs and (2) 3 recent failed rocket launches sponsored by Sec of Defense (and ARPA instigator) McElroy
This does not strike me as a very useful precedent.
As Weinberger tells it, McElroy had most recently worked at Proctor and Gamble as a brand manager, and that the launch of the Sputnik by the Soviets had given rise to a feeling of vulnerability and anticipation of nuclear attack in the US.
Read 4 tweets
15 Sep
On why GPT-3 is the language generator we (unfortunately) deserve: ”At its core, GPT-3 is an artificial bullshit engine—and a surprisingly good one at that ... like a human bullshitter, it also has no intrinsic concern for truth or falsity.”
I’m not sure it’s necessarily recognised among people who publish web content - but language generating tools need open access content to learn from, which means the kind of content that is open access is a massively important part of the machine-learning ecosystem.
Common Crawl commoncrawl.org and Wikipedia are two of the many sources that GPT-3 learns from. Gender bias on Wikipedia is such a well-known phenomenon that there is even, wait for it, a Wikipedia page on gender bias on Wikipedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_bi…
Read 7 tweets
15 Sep
Results of the Elbit Systems Hermes 900 drone trial in West Wales are forthcoming - ahead of a possible wider roll-out to support police in England and Wales. Not sure what to make of Kit Malthouse’s comment tbh. Via @alexwickham npas.police.uk/news/national-… Image
Is “bearing down on crime” really what the police is tasked with? Anyway, either way, they could be “bearing down” with drones soon.
This is how the National Police Air Service actually describe themselves: “To meet the criteria to receive air support, police officers have to demonstrate that a significant level of threat, risk or harm is posed to an individual, to communities or to property”
Read 4 tweets
14 Sep
“Since 1961 more people have gone into space than have raced in Formula 1 Grand Prix.” There’s something sort of delicious about this that I can’t quite put my finger on. (From the LRB.) Image
*ponders* Is it too late for Dominic Cummings to pursue an alternative career as an F1 driver?
Apparently it only costs £7-8m a year to be a junior racing driver though, so it might not be expensive enough.
Read 4 tweets
14 Sep
This is the clearest update I’ve read on the TikTok/Oracle hosting partnership (*not* purchase), ahead of the possible US ban. edition.cnn.com/2020/09/13/tec…
Meanwhile, this on the NVIDIA purchase of ARM nvidianews.nvidia.com/news/nvidia-to…
Read 5 tweets
12 Sep
As the UK is currently beholden to moonshot thinking, worth noting that Project Loon - spun out from X, Google’s “moonshot factory” and referred to here - is about 10 years old and has only recently been deployed at nation scale (afaict).
More on the deployment in Puerto Rico in 2017 medium.com/loon-for-all/t…
And Wikipedia dates the programme’s beginnings to 2011 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loon_LLC
Read 4 tweets
10 Sep
Today we’re sharing the findings from Glimmers - a real-time investigation into technology and civil society. We’ve looked at how communities and charities digitally transformed at speed since March — and what that means for the near future @plotlondon glimmersreport.net A lighthouse icon, and text that says, “A vision for commu
@plotlondon 1. Putting a Zoom on it isn’t enough!

Communities and charities have adapted to digital delivery almost overnight - they’ve been adaptable and inventive, despite being overstretched.

But social capital, serendipity and inclusive design are needed too. glimmersreport.net/report/findings
@plotlondon 2. Crisis management isn’t the same as time travel.

Things might look futuristic, but we haven’t really ffwd'd to 2030 - communities have been repurposing the tech, tools and skills they have right now to do amazing things. That’s not sustainable.

Read 8 tweets
9 Sep
Let’s just say I’m raising my eyebrows at this superforecasting revelation in today’s Politico playbook: "One particular point of concern has been statistics showing just how much more people tend to meet friends indoors in the colder months compared with the spring and summer."
A turn of events that literally no one who lives in the UK could have predicted without some data on a big screen. Image
Actually, more seriously, if this is being inferred from data on a big screen, I wonder what the source is. Google footfall data? An extrapolation from track and trace data?
Read 4 tweets
9 Sep
It’s National Data Strategy Day! Doubtless I will bore everyone to tears with this later, but striking to see it leads with lots of optimism about data sovereignty. Wondering if anyone is making any “British data for British people” hoddies to celebrate. gov.uk/government/new… Image
The National Data Strategy consultation is open till 2 December gov.uk/guidance/natio…
And the accompanying Foresight report into “The future of citizen data systems” is here gov.uk/government/pub…
Read 4 tweets
4 Sep
This is extraordinary, full-on “toys out of the box” behaviour from Amazon, on losing out on a military contract. Procurement nerds will raise several eyebrows. Image
This should become a core tech for tech ethics and gov tech practitioners. An absolute master class in supplier entitlement.
*text* obvs
Read 6 tweets