Building the foundation for a trusted digital society

Digital technologies have changed the communication landscape, allowing new modes of communication and open publishing. In this virtual world, users can create or share content from anywhere around the globe, in private or in public, including text, images, video and audio recordings. This freedom of publishing has many benefits, such as promoting public education, allowing for the sharing of good experiences between users and presenting people with many choices.

Meriam Jassim and Mannthalah Abubaker presenting their new concept
Meriam Jassim and Mannthalah Abubaker presenting their new concept
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But one major drawback is that there are still no tools or methods to validate information sources or to help users easily identify misinformation or misuse of information. Malicious users have regularly exploited this vulnerability to create and spread unreliable information, fake news and biases in order to influence user behavior. Our complex modern media environment also serves to make things even more challenging, as sophisticated technologies and tools for the editing, manipulating or simulation of content make it even easier for falsehoods to look like reality.

The 2018 Ericsson Innovation Awards addresses this problem by inviting university students from around the world to share their thoughts on this pressing topic, using the theme “The Future of Truth.” Student teams submitted proposals describing how technology can be used to solve this information challenge.

Over 1,400 teams from 107 countries entered the competition this year. 15 teams were selected for the semi-finals, and then 4 were qualified for the grand final in Stockholm. The semi-finalists teams were assigned mentors – Ericsson employees of different backgrounds – to support them in further developing their idea. The students created minimum viable products (MVP) and built business model canvases in 7 weeks.

I was assigned to mentor team MediKal, with my colleagues Valentino Norsic, Marijana Krsteva-Topaloska, James Coe, Norberto Palao and V S Kumaresh. Our expertise was complementary in both technical and business domains, giving our team an opportunity to learn new things from each other.

MediKal was a team of two undergraduates in biomedical engineering, Meriam Jassim and Mannthalah Abubaker from the University of Limerick, Ireland. Their idea was to develop an AI-based system including a fact checker and a chat bot, that medical professionals or the general public can use to search or share true health information. This solution will control the consumption of unreliable health information by suggesting similar information from alternative sources that were validated by their algorithm. Another benefit is that it could be used to monitor self-diagnosis and self-treatment practices that are becoming increasingly common due to the easy access to open and free online health information or healthcare services.

MediKal was one of the smallest teams among the finalists. However, they were very creative and passionate about their idea. It was a pleasure to watch them designing their solution, exploring the technologies that could fit their vision, and going out to survey medical students, health professionals and university staff to gather requirements and feedback. The interest in Medikal’s project that we observed on the university campus and in the other institutions they visited shows the importance of the theme of this year’s competition, “The Future of Truth.”

Mentoring a team was also an opportunity for me to validate some of the knowledge I’ve gained. A few years ago, I designed a solution to the fake identity problem which was considered in the Mobile Connect standard. For me, exploring technologies to solve the fake information problem and getting feedback from potential users were very interesting. It is another step in addressing the challenges of the digital world.

Constant Wette, mentor EIA 2018

Constant Wette, mentor EIA 2018

The team managed to implement a working prototype of their solution in a short period of time. They came very close to participating in the grand final, ranking 5th overall and receiving an honorable mention from the jury. This is a very good performance for a team of just 2, especially given the number and the quality of submissions received this year!

I am very proud to see the high level of diversity in this competition as it continues to grow over the years, bringing together students, mentors, and even potential users from different countries in a collaboration to design innovative and responsible digital solutions which are the foundations for a trusted digital society. The teams who reached the semi-final have the opportunity to develop practical experience in the tech industry under the supervision of Ericsson personnel, to develop entrepreneurial skills by designing a business model, and finally a sense of social responsibility by working to solve a societal problem.

The Ericsson Innovation Awards competition sets a global benchmark for students and for universities to compare their degree of creativity with other students and universities worldwide.

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