University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute on countering toxic behaviour and its tech first developments


Dr. Jonathan May, researcher at USC ISI is working on countering toxic online behavior. “Diplomat” is not automatically what you think of when you think of a computer scientist, but in Dr. May’s work, he draws from his days of university improv because it helps him appreciate possibilities.


Dr. May is applying bots as tools for diplomacy. Dr. May’s team is developing and training bots to identify toxic behaviors in online chatrooms and intervene when things get not-so-nice. “People are not trolls,” he says, “they have ‘trollish’ behavior.” 


At USC ISI, Dr. May specializes in natural language processing as part of a team that generates tools for decoding rare languages (the lab he runs at ISI can translate around 600 languages which surpasses the number of languages Google translates). This will help decode bullying in various languages and employ these bots to tackle it as it will suit best to the situation.


An additional note:


This research institute has quietly given way to many tech firsts—including the development of key pieces of the way we use the modern internet (e-commerce, e-payments, and streaming video). The story of the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI), which is turning 50 this year, has never fully been told to the general public. 


The scientists at USC ISI, along with other leaders in the internet community, co-developed the tools to enable sharing of live video broadcasts over the internet, revolutionizing communications and expanding the internet to the place it is now, where videos are broadcasted on Youtube and streamed via Netflix or Hulu, etc., and zoom meetings are held, versus a place where solely spreadsheets were shared. 


Computer scientists from this Institute even helped the Rolling Stones to be the first big-time band to live-stream their concert on the internet (for about 20 minutes in 1994 out of Dallas).   


This USC Institute is continuing to help the internet evolve in various ways including detecting deep fakes, detecting bias, and helping improve online interactions.


Establishing the internet’s inner workings with Request for Comments (RFCs); creating the “phonebook” of the internet with the Domain Naming System (DNS); building out the system of “dots” to divide the internet into .com, .edu, org, and more; developing the rules of the road with internet protocols (IPs) – these are just some of the dizzying array of internet developments made at ISI that are still used today.


Please let me know if some one from your team would like to talk to Dr. May about story development where he can elaborate on his research and share further insights.

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