Swansea research on a global stage

International MA Media student Ayushi Anutosh explains how the Clinton VIP visit helped shine a light on some terrific research taking place within the university and beyond…

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Swansea University on the 16th of November 2023 to discuss critical projects addressing the growing challenges of human rights, climate crisis and population health and wellbeing. During their visit to Bay Campus, the couple – known for their commitment to global issues – engaged with several of the University’s research projects in a thought-provoking dialogue aimed at fostering collaboration and innovation.

President and Secretary Clinton began the day at the Bay Library for a series of informal conversations with six different projects groups. The first three projects dived into cyber threat security, deep fake media, and integrative semiconductor research, underscoring the university’s role as a hub for cutting-edge technology.

The Cyber Threat Research Centre lead by Prof. Stuart Macdonald and team considers the private channels like Telegram used by jihadist groups to influence people to join their community via sharable links. Adam Hadley, director of Tech Against Terrorism, adds that collaborating with the UK government helps them identify gaps in the jurisdiction, data collection helps to create a well analyzed monitoring system that can be implemented against identifying terrorist groups online. “We are looking at what changes Google play can make in taking down Hamas groups from Telegram” suggested Adam.

The Swansea University team talk about combating terror using technology (picture from Tech Against Terror website)

The team also explained how AI technology can identify and monitor terrorist activity online. They discussed the benefits of ‘hashing’ terrorist media sent online, especially on Telegram, thereby helping them mark such content as terrorist activity on whichever online medium it is the repurposed for or redirected to. Team member Angharad Devereux, a PhD student at the University told us that University’s cutting-edge technology was making a significant contribution to her field of research. President and Secretary Clinton were particularly intrigued by this project but soon it was time to move towards the next project.

Angharad is one of the University’s Global Challenges scholars...

The second group – The Trust in User-generated Evidence (TRUE) is a project that examined the impact of deepfakes on trust in user-generated evidence in accountability processes for human rights violations. Professor Yvonne McDermott-Rees, who leads the TRUE project spoke about valuable media content submitted in court cases that have been subjected to manipulations better known as ‘deepfakes’ to change the direction of the case. Professor Yvonne McDermott-Rees says that since the jurisdiction is valuing user-generated evidence in court cases, manipulating the media content has become an easier for people to alter evidence, and with the rise in AI technology these deepfakes are getting much more difficult to spot.

“Is there a way to verify (deepfakes)?”, asked Secretary Clinton, and Michael Elsanadi, a research assistant on the project replied that the team have a number of resources that they refer when trying to identify certain traits in those deepfakes. At present the Artificial Intelligence is still not perfect, and there are a few giveaway elements. For example, “artificial intelligence is really bad at drawing hands and feet” suggested said Professor McDermott-Rees. In these images, for example, sometimes people have seven fingers or three toes, and this is often a clear indication that the image might have been developed using AI. She also highlighted the potential misuse of synthetic media in influencing public opinion and emphasized the need for ethical guidelines and regulatory frameworks to curb the negative impact on society.

Professor McDermott Rees and Michael both work on the TRUE project

Secretary Clinton was fascinated by this work, and encouraged the team to continue to work on ways to determine what is fake and the truth. President Clinton emphasized the importance of having social science as an integral part of the project, highlighting that technology needs to be supported by non-scientific ways that may help us to understand how people might interpret and construct meaning from such imagery.

The discussion then focused on the third project – the Centre for Integrative Semiconductor Research (CISM), led by Professor Paul Meredith and team, whose goal is to decarbonise the wider manufacturing industry and to more specifically promote student training. The team spoke passionately about educating the new generation and creating field visit opportunities, with Secretary Clinton recognising that manufacturing must be made appealing to young people. Iwan Davies, a member of the group, spoke about the ‘semiconductor wafer chips’ that they build at their largest manufacturing site in Newport. The chips are a vital element in making the face ID tech in mobile phones and they are one of the biggest suppliers of these chips.

The CISM Team

The team talked about a recent school visit to the plant. They were amazed to hear a young girl explain the use of semiconductors in fitbits and her interest in exploring its possibilities. Secretary Clinton emphasised how important it was to make workings environment better for women by including resources such as childcare facilities and developing innovative and collaborative ways to recruit women into the industry. “I am thrilled that you are doing this”, she concluded towards the end of the team’s presentation.

The morning session concluded with a commitment from Secretary and President Clinton to continue supporting initiatives that promote responsible technological development, international collaboration, and cybersecurity awareness. Swansea University, in turn, reaffirmed its dedication to advancing research and education in these areas, reconfirming the university’s reputation as a leader in technological innovation and global problem-solving.

Ayushi (right) worked at the event with colleague Amy.