HomeTechUSC and Stanford launch Starling Lab to defend human rights with decentralization

USC and Stanford launch Starling Lab to defend human rights with decentralization

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The University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation and Stanford University have partnered on The Starling Lab, which will be committed to utilizing decentralized tools based on cryptography and blockchain to advance the lead to of human rights.



The two organizations have a commitment for $2 million in funding from Protocol Labs and the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web to make the Starling Lab into the initially such center in the world.



The lab will tackle the technical and ethical challenges of establishing trust about the most sensitive digital records of our human history, utilizing the most recent advances in cryptography and decentralized net protocols. The announcement was made for the duration of RightsCon, the world’s top summit on human rights in the digital age. I wrote about how Project Starling worked with Reuters to gather images documenting 78 days in the current U.S. presidential transition. That project employed a range of technological options to confirm the authenticity of the images — which includes these of the Capitol riot.

“The Reuters project was a good example of the types of things that we were looking to do as an initial set of prototypes,” Starling Lab founding director Jonathan Dotan stated in an interview with VentureBeat. “And both universities realized that there was a tremendous need to look into further study of the decentralized web. And that was a massive change in terms of our understanding of the importance of this work. So it wasn’t just about a series of technologies or best practices, but this is actually about the re-architecting of the internet, end to end. And so the decision was taken to create the first dedicated research center in the world, specifically on looking at the decentralized web and how it can be used to advance human rights.”

The Lab will be supported by a multi-year funding commitment from the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW) and Protocol Labs. The initial funds will be used to employ complete-time employees and fund fellowships at the Lab, bringing collectively faculty, students, and market professionals to create technologies and strategies that make the decentralized web a viable platform for social influence.

Image Credit: Project Starling

Human rights groups interested in working with organizations like FFDW and the Starling Lab to capture, shop, confirm and preserve beneficial datasets must check out starlinglab.org/join to study more about instruction, educational, and grant possibilities.

On stage at the human-rights-focused RightsCon on the web occasion, Dotan and FFDW board chair Marta Belcher discussed the creation of the Starling Lab and the possibilities of strengthening the integrity of history, journalism, and legal accountability in this era of increasing digital misinformation.

Dotan, who is founding director of the Starling Lab, stated in a statement that the original guarantee of the web was to use decentralized systems to give absolutely everyone a likelihood to expand human information and understanding. That appears like a distant aim, but he stated it is more essential than ever prior to. He stated the Lab’s employees desires to enable create a new chapter for the net by innovating with technologies and ethics that let absolutely everyone to restore digital trust.

“With any new technology, it’s definitely a matter of, instead of having expert witnesses you can testify about, about how a technology actually means that this thing is real and true based on the technological facts,” Belcher stated in an interview. “What’s so incredible about this technology is that it gives you the ability to verify the truth of a matter.”

The Photographic Archive of Trust

Metadata on the Reuters images.

Image Credit: Project Starling

Starling’s study teams have currently constructed notable proofs of notion to document human rights and civil rights violations, war crimes, and genocide testimony. A current instance consists of the previously described 78 Days: A Photographic Archive of Trust, an archive of pictures captured by Reuters’ photojournalists documenting the pivotal 78 days of the United States presidential transition in between the 2020 election and Inauguration Day.

For that project, the different groups collaborated with tech providers — which includes Adobe’s Content Authenticity Initiative, Filecoin, and Hedera Hashgraph — to produce the Photographic Archive of Trust. The prototype, which combines technological options to confirm the authenticity of pictures, documents the days in between the 2020 U.S. presidential election and Inauguration Day. The pictures have metadata that is committed to a blockchain — the blockchain option tech designed by Hedera Hashgraph — which can swiftly record information in an immutable style. It lets any one verify the provenance of an image and access immutable data, which includes a timestamp, exactly where the image is stored, and a verified edit history.

The archive requires the images from the Reuters photographers and commits them to quite a few blockchain ledgers, permitting any one to verify the provenance of the image. On the tech side, the coalition consists of the Adobe-led Content Authenticity Initiative — a cross-market collaboration to create an market regular for content attribution. It consists of Filecoin, the world’s biggest decentralized storage network that operates nicely with permanent storage of pictures. It also consists of IPFS, the peer-to-peer hypermedia protocol created to make the net quicker, safer, and more open. And it utilizes Hedera Hashgraph and the HTC/Numbers Protocol, which brings blockchain technologies to mobile devices and the cameras linked with them.

Some of these systems use blockchain, a digital ledger that was introduced to the public by means of Bitcoin. The underlying principle is that there is no central authority controlling a single ledger. Everyone who is component of the program controls a decentralized and shared record. A blockchain is a fairly new type of database that is becoming the resolution for storing digital data more securely.

Hashing an image on a smartphone.

Image Credit: Project Starling

Hedera is a decentralized public network on which developers can construct safe, fair applications with close to true-time finality. The Hedera Consensus Service (HCS) acts as a trust layer for any application or permissioned network and permits for the creation of an immutable and verifiable log of messages. Application messages are submitted to the Hedera network for consensus, provided a trusted timestamp, and relatively ordered. Built for tracking points, Hedera utilizes an option to the blockchain that achieves some of the similar safety added benefits but is also quicker. So it was beneficial in acquiring metadata onto the safe and permanent network as swiftly as achievable.

The images are archived utilizing a distributed cryptographic program for safekeeping. With technologies from the Content Authenticity Initiative, customers can effortlessly see safe attribution information for every digital image by means of a next-generation user interface and file regular led by Adobe and cofounded by the New York Times and Twitter.

Anyone with an web connection can access the archive and the immutable data inside every image description. With conspiracy theories and deep fakes rife on social media and the public’s escalating reliance on social media platforms as a supply of news, offering a tool to confirm the authenticity of digital content is critical to counteracting the manipulation of data.

Reuters photojournalists captured images utilizing Numbers Protocol, thereby producing a one of a kind fingerprint for each photo. Examined and edited by news editors and reality-checkers, images are labeled, displaying image metadata from the Reuters content management program.

Each image was initially committed to the Hedera Consensus Service (HCS). The image was then cryptographically hashed utilizing IPFS, producing a content identifier (CID) that serves as a one of a kind fingerprint of that image, and hosted on a distributed server. Instead of getting place-based, IPFS addresses a file based on its contents. The content identifier is a cryptographic hash of the content at that address. The hash is one of a kind to the content it came from, even although it might look brief compared to the original content. It also permits you to confirm that you got what you asked for — negative actors can not just hand you content that does not match. Because the address of a file in IPFS is designed from the content itself, hyperlinks in IPFS can not be changed.

Images are uploaded and stored on Filecoin’s decentralized cloud network. Filecoin supplies a continuous record to show that files are safe and have not been tampered with. Using the new CAI regular for image attribution, any one can view the image archive and verify its provenance utilizing immutable data, which includes a timestamp, image storage information, and verified edit history.

Saving history

Augmented reality app at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Image Credit: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Dotan stated it is not intuitive to assume of technologies as getting capable to preserve a piece of history for the extended term. Hard drives are meant to last 5 years or so, and then they can develop into obsolete. If you are attempting to preserve some thing like the memory of the Holocaust, as the USC Shoah Foundation has accomplished with its 55,000 archived testimonials about the Holocaust, then it becomes a true dilemma to discover the technologies that preserves it.

But Dotan stated the terrific factor about decentralization is that it is not dependent on a single node. For instance, one piece of data could be stored on several distinct sorts of storage media in a peer-to-peer network of computer systems, and if one of them becomes obsolete, that does not matter. The rest of the computer systems will nevertheless have the archived information. In that way, decentralized computer system networks can adapt as pieces of the network develop into obsolete, Dotan stated.

“One of the challenges is that we live in an internet that’s very much built on services, in which if you want access to something, and you want to use add functionality, you’re signing up and end through the cloud with a service that provides you both hardware and software. And you’re stuck on that platform,” Dotan stated. “For the most part, you have very little choice. You can maybe switch to another platform if you’re lucky. But it takes a lot of time. And as you’re mentioning, there are a lot of choices that are being made for you in terms of the infrastructure that’s being used and software stack and all the rest of it, and interoperability at the protocol level. So you store information, and then you create apps on top of that. Interoperability is like a fundamental principle that we work with in the new decentralized web. So if you think about it at that level, as things evolve with new applications and new infrastructure that emerges, if you have interoperability, then those changes are accommodated for in the decentralized web because it is meant to evolve over time. It is the idea of decentralization means that you allow the maximum amount of choice for the end users.”

Protecting the human proper to privacy

Project Starling is establishing the provenance of photos.

Image Credit: Project Starling

Sometimes the dilemma with decentralization’s transparency is that it can record all the things in the blockchain, but individuals who are evading tyrants might not want to be effortlessly tracked down. So the Starling Lab has to be cautious about permitting that type of privacy for individuals involved — such as journalists recording events — when it is essential, Dotan stated.

“As we’ve conceived of the solutions for human rights, you need to have both a set of tools and principles that can allow for great solutions because the tools can be used for amazing things that can help protect life and preserve truth. But they can those same tools can also be used for surveillance and oppression, and all sorts of things as you’re describing, which can be transgressions and privacy, and human rights,” Dotan stated. “So we very much see those two possibilities. And that’s precisely why we wanted to create centers of excellence that can study those two things hand in hand. And when you think a little bit about the evolution, let’s say, of [engineering department] where this project began, they’ve come to understand as a department that they have to equip their students not just with new methods for new technologies and creating tech breakthroughs. But you also want to have breakthroughs on ethics.”

He added, “You want to have breakthroughs on privacy and principles. And they want those same engineers to be thinking both about both types of innovation. And when you think about it, it’s so fascinating that it’s the same technology. Because blockchain technology, when you think of like let’s say, a cryptocurrency, I think people have kind of forgotten that the term cryptocurrency is based on cryptography, right? That’s the crypto market. And cryptography is is very much about creating trust with forms of encryption that can then allow you to create integrity through a process. ”

This indicates that the lab has to figure out the proper utilizes of blockchain, cryptography, transparency, and privacy, when it is utilizing technologies to help with human rights, Dotan stated.

“There are two sides of the same coin here with cryptography on one side, which you can use to create trust with these public networks. And on the other side of the coin, you have encryption, which can be used to to help secure privacy of those very same transactions. And so that’s very much what we work on. We are using the fundamentals of cryptography to achieve both aims.”

As an instance, you can stay away from a possibly corrupt central bank in a unique nation that does not respect human rights by utilizing the blockchain in peer-to-peer transactions that do not have to use the central bank. But the identity of the person does not have to develop into public as that can stay encrypted, Dotan stated.

“Going back to journalists, there may be many circumstances in which it is unsafe for them to reveal all the information about their location, and where they took the photo and whatnot,” Dotan stated. “And so we gave them the choice to flip that on, at a time of their choosing. And then at the same time, like with human rights activists, they can be in very dangerous situations. And so cryptography is a way of helping protect those individuals. But at the same time, even if they choose to take those protections, they can still retain the integrity of their work. And what’s new here is that you have both of those opportunities. They’re not they’re actually not conflicting with each other. They’re self reinforcing.”

The alignment of decentralization and human rights

Image Credit: Jason Reed/Getty Images

There’s an additional point that Dotan desires individuals to fully grasp about the significance of decentralization and its connection to human rights.

“We maintain the flexibility to allow people to use what part of the stack that they want,” Dotan stated. “We’re not committed to one solution. And secondly, which I think is really important is, we see that this initiative is very much part of Web3. Stanford had a founding role in creating the internet as we know it, and in the late 1960s, it presented some of the first prototypes of what would become the ARPANET, and then onwards to what, eventually in the 1990s became the worldwide web. What’s interesting about it is that at its origins, the researchers and the professors that were working on this technology, and I should mention, by the way, both at Stanford and at USC, they both each have their own important contributions to the early web. They saw that this network needed to be decentralized. So there wasn’t like a single governing body that was clearing all the standards and mandating protocols. Instead, there was consensus that was slowly built by a variety of different universities first, and then it expanded outwards from there. And the Internet of today would be almost unrecognizable to those individuals.”

He stated a substantial swatch of data now goes by means of the networks of major providers such as Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

“What’s important here is that we’re returning to the first principles of how the internet was actually architected,” Dotan stated. “We’re creating a new center of study around understand both how that can be done technically, but then also to explore the ethics and the governance to make sure that now when the Web3 gets created, then we don’t revert back to some new form of centralization. So that this can persist. We can make really important choices, and create new ways of thinking that is the basis of the next generation of computer science and electrical engineering.”

He added, “This is easily the most intuitive and also the most powerful use case for decentralized technology. Because it allows for human rights activists who are often at the margins of society, and often working in extreme difficult situations, for them to be empowered with and to get out information about those circumstances, both for the terror that’s going on, and then also for being able to create solutions.”

The USC Shoah Foundation is decentralizing the storage of its testimonials so that they can be permanently archived. And now they will be capable to scale to take thousands of more testimonials about genocide in the coming years as a outcome of the technologies, Dotan stated.

“We’re working on decentralizing the storage of that archive,” Dotan stated.

The lab can also tackle civil rights problems and capture testimony about the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

“We’re expanding to go beyond genocides, looking at issues around civil rights. So that’s exciting,” he stated.

Future projects

These images led to the dangerous rise of alternative facts.

Image Credit: Project Starling

In the years ahead, the Starling Lab will be the permanent home for future case research and as an innovation laboratory that explores new decentralized technologies and governance in the field to address present-day mass atrocities, intolerance and hate-based violence, and unrest due to climate transform. It will bring back these learnings to pioneer new collegiate courses, K-12 curriculum, and qualified instruction modules on digital trust.

Colin Evran, ecosystem lead at Protocol Labs, stated in a statement the lab will accelerate the transition from Web2 to Web3, enabling more regular Web2 providers to shop, confirm and preserve beneficial information sets in highly effective new strategies utilizing decentralized technologies like Filecoin and IPFS. As a founding companion, Protocol Labs is thrilled to be cementing its extended-term commitment to the Starling Lab by means of funding and world-class mentorship, stated Angie Maguire, head of development and advertising and marketing at Protocol Labs, in an interview with VentureBeat.

“Jonathan is very much the visionary here,” Maguire stated. “We at Protocol Labs are just so proud to be part of this moment, as a founding partner. We see ourselves as just part of a much bigger picture here. It really aligns with our values as a company.”

Belcher stated the lab and FFDW share the mission of preserving humanity’s most vital data. She stated she is thrilled to be capable to help the Starling Lab’s important work of documenting human rights abuses and making certain that that information persists utilizing decentralized net technologies.

Stephen Smith, executive director of USC Shoah Foundation, UNESCO Chair on Genocide Education, and faculty director of the Starling Lab at USC, stated in a statement that the Shoah Foundation has for 25 years embraced sophisticated technologies that can transform preservation and education as we advance our mission of building empathy, respect and understanding by means of testimony. He stated the commitment will let the foundation and the lab to deepen an vital new region of study and fulfill the guarantee to survivors of genocide by making certain that their digital history can withstand the test of time.

The group is searching at the curriculum getting thought of and the classes that are getting created and textbooks written. It is also searching at hiring 5 individuals now and more individuals later on, Dotan stated. He stated the lab is inviting human rights organizations to pitch the lab on possible projects and study about the technologies. After all, Dotan stated that the information about decentralization and human rights shouldn’t be centralized in just one lab. There are probably 30 engineers about the world working on the open-supply tech the lab demands.

“We don’t want to centralize knowledge,” Dotan stated. “We very much want to train others.”

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