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BKC Assembly announces 2021 Assembly Fellowship cohort

BKC Assembly announces 2021 Assembly Fellowship cohort

Five teams from inside and outside academia to further develop interventions in the areas of disinformation, cybersecurity, and ethical AI

The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is thrilled to announce twenty fellows to the Assembly program, which brings together cohorts of professionals, students, and experts from across sectors and disciplines to explore and make progress on tech policy challenges. For the fifth year of Assembly, we are thrilled to welcome back five ongoing alumni project teams to the Assembly Fellowship to further develop their independent, public interest projects.

Over the last five years, Assembly has tackled the future of digital security, the ethics and governance of artificial intelligence, and most recently, disinformation. The program has recruited and supported more than one hundred participants to build communities of practice and develop almost twenty public interest projects or provocations. 


In 2021, the cohort is composed primarily of program alumni returning to Assembly for a second time. After previous Assembly Fellowships, these teams continued collaborating and building on their initial prototypes, aiming to help solve critical problems in cybersecurity, AI, and disinformation. Many of the projects received funding to support their work, including small grants from the Assembly Accelerator Fund based at the Miami Foundation and supported by the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund.

Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Berkman Klein Center co-founder and Assembly program lead, is thrilled to welcome back this group, saying, “Assembly lets people take a step back from their day jobs and apply their talents to the broader public interest. We are particularly impressed with these five projects, and can’t wait to see the work further develop during the 2021 fellowship.” 

The incoming cohort brings deep expertise in media, platform policy, programming, design, philosophy, project management, and advocacy. During this year’s program, Assembly Project Fellows will continue their project work in dialogue with other projects, receive support and guidance from all-star advisors, and gather virtually for programming designed to help project teams learn across teams and topic areas. This year’s project team advisors are the Director of the ACLU Technology for Liberty program Kade Crockford, Professor Mary Gray, Professor James Mickens, Professor Margo Seltzer, Assembly co-founder Jordi Weinstock, and Professor Jonathan Zittrain. Additionally, project teams will have opportunities to present their work to the Assembly and Berkman Klein Center communities and to the public.

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The Berkman Klein Center welcomes the following Projects and Assembly Project Fellows to the 2021 Assembly Fellowship:

AI Blindspot

After seeing the rapid pace at which machine learning systems were being implemented in both the public and private sectors, Assembly Fellows formed the AI Blindspot team in 2019. They aim to dissolve the barriers between those who build AI systems and those who don't — demystifying the ways in which AI systems might be harmful to vulnerable communities and reducing the burden of understanding the impacts of automated decision making systems. 

  • Team: Ania Calderon, Hong Qu, Dan Taber, and Jeff Wen

  • Advisor: Kade Crockford, ACLU of Massachusetts

Clean Insights

The pandemic has given rise to an increased number of privacy failures in systems meant for public health services, as well as data leaks and exposures in systems that people are relying on for remote work and social collaboration. Ultimately, there is still too much data being gathered without reason or purpose. In 2017, concerned about these privacy and security failures, Assembly Fellows collaborated to create Clean Insights: a secure, private measurement platform that is focused on answering key questions, instead of enabling invasive surveillance. Clean Insights is a project housed at Guardian Project, a grant-funded mobile software collective that develops privacy-enhanced software and services with a focus on human rights and humanitarian needs. 

  • Team: Nathan Freitas

  • Advisor: Professor Margo Seltzer, Berkman Klein Center Director and University of British Columbia 

Data Nutrition Project

In 2018, drawn together by an overlapping interest in improving artificial intelligence from the perspective of data governance and the harms caused by poor training data in models, Assembly Fellows created the Data Nutrition Project. DNP encourages the responsible development of artificial intelligence by creating tools and practices, including a Dataset “Nutrition Label” that explains what is inside a dataset before it is used to train a machine learning model. 

  • Team: Kasia Chmielinski, Josh Joseph, Sarah Newman, Matt Taylor, Kemi Thomas, and Jessica Yurkofsky

  • Advisor: Professor Mary Gray, Microsoft Research and Indiana University

Disinfodex

Recognizing the need for more centralized information about disinformation campaigns taken down by major online platforms, a group of Assembly Fellows in 2020 built Disinfodex. Disinfodex is a database of publicly available information about disinformation campaigns, and currently includes disclosures issued by major online platforms and accompanying reports from independent open source investigators.

  • Team: Jenny Fan, Gülsin Harman, Rhona Tarrant, Ashley Tolbert, Neal Ungerleider, and Clement Wolf

  • Advisor: Professor James Mickens, Berkman Klein Center Director

equalAIs

In 2018, concerned by the unregulated application of facial recognition technologies, this group of Assembly Fellows collaborated to create a digital mask for photos that fights pervasive surveillance and helps protect civil liberties. EqualAIs aims to demonstrate that individuals can and should be able to express consent or non-consent beyond the levels of capacity provided by 3rd parties that track individuals’ data.

  • Team: Gretchen Greene, Thomas Miano, and Daniel Pedraza

  • Advisor: Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Berkman Klein Center Director

Previous Assembly participants have emphasized that they never could have advanced this work so quickly without Assembly, and they are returning to the program to spur their ideas forward and make progress on tackling critical public interest problems. Former Berkman Klein Center Fellow and returning Assembly Project Fellow Nathan Freitas wrote, “As a previous Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center, I was impressed and inspired by the discussions, research, writing, and community-building. Then, through Assembly in 2017, I took all of that input and built something new with my cohort: the Clean Insights project… In the few years since the original Clean Insights concept was imagined and invented at Assembly, I've been leading its evolution into actual software with my team at Guardian Project. Now, I’m returning to Assembly to step back, and to expand the scope of the type of systems and services the project could impact.” 

In addition to the Assembly Fellowship, the broader Assembly program, led by Professor Jonathan Zittrain, charters a cohort of student fellows and the Assembly Forum, an expert discussion group. The Assembly Project Fellowship is designed and organized by Hilary Ross, Sarah Newman, and Zenzele Best, with support from the Assembly staff team and BKC faculty, staff, and the broader community. 

Learn more about the Assembly program, this year’s Assembly Fellowship, the 2021 cohort’s full bios, and their projects.

 

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