Three ITGS news articles you may have missed

Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break

New software could offer teachers and professors a break from grading essays by performing the task automatically. Grading simple multiple-choice questions is easy for a computer, but understanding the content and meaning of longer writing has still been too difficult for even advanced artificial intelligence software. The new software, which will be available for free online from Harvard, is claimed to free up significant portions of professors’ time. One of its first uses will be on the web site EdX – which offers free Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs can be much bigger than traditional ‘offline’ courses – sometimes with thousands of students – meaning grading submitted work is a significant challenge.

The new grading software is not without controversy however – one critic, Les Perelman, has created a number of nonsensical essays that were still graded highly by the system. Others have criticised the lack of comparison between the grades from the computerised system and the grades a human marker would assign an essay. Other negative impacts include deeper concerns that the system may lead to “writing for the computer”, reducing creativity and individual expression and replacing it with phrases or structures that are known to score highly. Would you like your ITGS exams graded this way? Read the full article

Encryption stymies federal eavesdropping of drug suspect

iPhoneUS Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) internal documents reveal that a criminal investigation into a suspected drug dealer encountered problems when two suspects started encrypting their communications. The suspects used Apple’s iMessage service, which automatically encrypts all messages it sends, meaning even intercepted messages could not be read by the authorities.

Encryption technology is essential for many industries – banking and online shopping, government, the military, and many organisations require secure communications that cannot be intercepted by third parties. However, the same technology has long offered criminals a way to hide their deeds from law enforcement – in theory, forever. This relates directly to the ITGS social / ethical issues of privacy, security, and surveillance, and to the Politics & Government area of impact.

The balance between privacy and security of communications, and surveillance by law enforcement has been long been debated. In the UK the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) makes it illegal to refuse to reveal computer passwords or keys during a police investigation. In 2010 a teenager was jailed for 16 weeks for doing exactly that (one can only imagine that the decrypted data would reveal evidence of an even greater crime). However, in a US case, a federal court ruled that forcing a suspect to decrypt his data would be unconstitutional (the Fifth Amendment provides protection against self-incrimination). Read the full article

British Library to Archive Web Sites and Tweets

Image: Flickr

The British Library has announced plans to archive billions of web pages and Twitter posts as part of a new digital preservation project. Although the rapidly-changing nature of digital information is often lauded as a benefit, it can also be a serious drawback as old information is removed and is lost in a digital ‘black hole’. The British Library say large amounts of information which could have historical value – such as the public reaction to major events like the 2005 London terrorist attacks – may have already been lost.

The project will face a number of challenges however – most notably, intellectual property. Although the library has the right to collect and archive electronic publications made in the UK, it must work to distinguish between UK and foreign web sites. The sheer volume of web sites also makes the task difficult – the frequency with which web sites are scanned (‘indexed’ in search engine speak) will have a direct impact on how successful the archiving process will be. Read the full article

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