Dr Mary Aiken, Associate Professor, Department of Law and Criminology, University of East London & Cyberpsychologist, Ireland
By Nurfilzah Rohaidi
Women in GovTech Special Report 2019.
How do you use technology/policy to improve citizens’ lives? Tell us about your role or organisation.
I am a Cyberpsychologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Law & Criminology at the University of East London. I am an Academic Advisor to Europol’s European Cyber Crime Centre (EC3). My research interests include AI & Fintech, human factors in cybersecurity, organised cybercrime, Internet psychology, child protection and ‘Online Harms’. I advise at national and international level policy debates on the intersection of technology and human behaviour.
Our research with Europol on “Youth Pathways into Cybercrime” has helped to inform policy debates and protocols regarding cyber juvenile delinquency. In June 2019, I disseminated our findings at the ‘Global Conference on Youth and Cybercrime’ at the City University of Hong Kong.
What has been the most exciting thing that you worked on in 2019?
This year I have been working on a research project with the UK Government in the area of ‘Online Harms’. This is an exciting initiative for a package of online safety measures that also aim to support innovation and the digital economy. The ‘Online Harms’ initiative will involve legislative and non-legislative measures which will make companies more responsible for their users’ safety online, especially children and other vulnerable groups.
Companies will be held to account for tackling a comprehensive set of ‘Online Harms’, ranging from online harassment to extreme content online. I am excited at the prospect of trying to enhance cyberspace, and in doing so, hopefully create a better cyber society.
What is the best thing you have experienced in your career?
I think that traveling to interesting places and meeting a diverse range of fascinating people have been great career experiences. For example, this year I was invited to Beijing for the launch of the Chinese edition of my book The Cyber Effect; I went to Singapore to give a keynote on “Forecasting and Planning for the Future” at the INTERPOL World conference; then on to Chicago to give a talk at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention; and then back to London to give a talk on FinTech (or what I describe as ‘CrimTech’) at the Standard Chartered Bank connectors event at Sibos, a leading global financial services event. I am grateful for these continuous worldwide incredible experiences.
However, probably the most surprising and best experience of my career was being invited to Hollywood to meet senior executives at CBS who commissioned the US prime time TV show CSI:Cyber based on my work as a Cyberpsychologist. The actress Patricia Arquette played me in the show.
At its height, the show aired in 170 countries worldwide. It was, and still is, a fantastic opportunity to entertain and educate a global audience regarding all things cyber.
If you were to share one piece of advice that you learned in 2019, what would it be?
A friend gave me some advice a few months ago and it really resonated – they quoted the great philosopher Confucius (551- 479 BCE) who said, “We have two lives, the second begins when we realize we only have one.”
What tool or techniques particularly interests you for 2020?
I think that age verification tools and technologies will become increasingly important in 2020. These tools are necessary in terms of protecting young people from age-inappropriate content online.
I predict that the most important new growth area from an investment perspective will be ‘SafetyTech.’ I work as an advisor to Paladin Capital, a leading global investor in cyber companies; therefore I am very interested in human factors in cybersecurity, or as I describe it, “cyber securing human endpoints.”
I predict that in the 2020s, we will see a greater focus on enhancing collaboration between the network/information security sector and cyber law enforcement authorities, along with the growth of resilience-building activities such as cyber simulation exercises.
What are your priorities for 2020?
I am very interested in a new theoretical area known as ‘quantum cognition’ – that is, the mathematical principles behind quantum mechanics used to understand another notoriously inexplicable area of study, human behaviour. One of my priorities in 2020 is to progress this theoretical construct, as I believe that in future there could be important applications of this theory to challenging cybersecurity areas such as insider threats.
This quote sums up why using a standard probability-based approach may fail when attempting to predict a phenomenon such as insider threat: “When something is irrational in decision-making, it’s because it’s against what a classical probability-based decision model should predict…but humans don’t behave in that way.”
What is one challenge you would like to take on in 2020?
I would very much like to see the UK concept of ‘Online Harms’ reaching a global audience. We are all citizens of cyberspace – therefore we are all in this together. It’s important that we collectively discuss how to get the best out of technology, and how to mitigate harmful effects. I will do my best to take this debate to a global audience – this month, I go to Washington DC to start the process.
What has been your fondest memory from the past year?
My fondest memory from this year was my visit to the Great Wall of China, just outside of Beijing. The publishers took a photograph of me holding the Chinese edition of my book on the wall. As a cyber behavioural scientist I am very concerned about the impact of technology on humankind – I am concerned about our future. It was quite overwhelming to stand on a wall more than 5,000 miles long, and dating back as far as the seventh century BC, an absolute marvel of engineering.
It was a truly humbling and grounding experience – it gave me hope in terms of human ingenuity, and it gave me hope for our future.