JIGSAW TURNS ONE
By Jared Cohen
One year ago today, Google Ideas expanded from a think tank to a technology incubator in Alphabet called Jigsaw. Our one-year anniversary provides an occasion to reflect on our work in 2016 and share a bit of what we have in store for the year ahead.
At Jigsaw we ask ourselves how technology can make people in the world safer. Specifically we look at the role of technology in some of the world’s toughest geopolitical challenges, from protecting free speech to tackling online toxicity to fighting censorship and radicalization.
Defending free expression around the world means supporting the free press. And for the past several years, news organizations have been targeted by cyber attacks intended to silence reporting and manipulate public opinion. Last year Jigsaw launched Project Shield last February to protect news sites, human rights organizations, and election monitoring groups from the rising tide of DDoS attacks. We’re proud that Shield not only defended the premier security blog against the then-largest DDoS attack in history, but also that it now protects hundreds of sites in dozens of nations around the world.
In addition to defending news sites against cyber attacks, we created tools that help journalists share information. We launched Montage, a tool that helps journalists collaboratively analyze conflict footage from war zones by organizing video content on YouTube — a tool currently being used by NGOs to identify ISIS positions in Syria. And we helped to launch the new feature in Google News that creates a “fact check” tag to help readers find articles that have been fact-checked by reputable sources. Bill Adair, the founder of Politifact, applauded the effort on Twitter calling it a “huge step for fact-checking.”
Clearly violent extremism has been another major concern throughout the world this past year, especially in the Middle East, where the world’s wealthiest terrorist organization has tried to recruit new members from around the world. To help stem the tide of online radicalization and disrupt ISIS’s propaganda machine, we developed the Redirect Method, which uses targeted advertising to divert vulnerable people away from ISIS propaganda. The results were encouraging — our experiment reached more than 300,000 people and drove more than half a million minutes of video viewing time.
Another challenge we confronted in 2016 was toxicity online and how the rising tide of trolling and online harassment is making it harder to have inclusive conversations. A number of platforms shut down commenting altogether this year. We think technology can help.
Conversation AI is our research project that uses machine learning to spot abusive and harassing language. We partnered with The New York Times and Wikimedia — the two platforms that will first employ this technology to help expand and refine their comment threads and discussion pages. Watch this space in 2017 — we have a few exciting announcements coming up…
In the year ahead we want to focus on scaling our products and investing in new, innovative research to understand the role that technology plays in the most pressing global security challenges. Over the next few months we’ll be announcing new research initiatives that explore new facets of online harassment — when online abuse becomes more sophisticated, better funded, and even state-sponsored. In the meantime, thanks for all your support and passion this past year.
Jared Cohen is the President of Jigsaw and Advisor to the Executive Chairman of Alphabet Inc.