Glossary

Technological Terms to Know

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)

Machines and software that utilise information, data, and programming to perform useful tasks or exhibit ‘intelligent’ behaviour. Examples include speech recognition, learning, planning and problem solving.

    Currently all AI can be defined as ARTIFICIAL NARROW INTELLIGENCE (ANI), meaning the machine specialises in one area. Examples include Siri, which can look up information from a large data set, or the AI that beat the world’s number one player at Go.

    ARTIFICIAL GENERAL INTELLIGENCE (AGI) is the possibility of a machine that could perform all the intellectual tasks that a human can. Experts tend to agree that AGI will be reached in the 21st century.

    ARTIFICIAL SUPERINTELLIGENCE (ASI) refers to the possibility of a machine that is infinitely more intelligent than humans in all areas. The topic of ASI is associated with the idea of an intelligence explosion. It is unclear what existential risks may follow from ASI, and much research is currently underway to assess the implications, forecasts and design considerations of superintelligent machines.

 
ATTENTION ECONOMY

A marketplace in which consumers receive services in exchange for their attention. As people have a finite amount of time, what we look at and engage with online is a commodity to companies, who compete for our attention in order to promote products and serve advertisements.

 
AUTOMATION

Referring to a process that is carried out by a machine and does not require human input or supervision.

 
BACK-END

The part of an application that performs a task not apparent to the user.

 
BEHAVIOUR LAG

The period between not understanding and finally learning the ways in which technology is understood; more specifically, how it is physically used and its broader implications.

 
BIG DATA

Large and complex sets of data, too big to be useful in traditional models of processing. The size of these data sets require the application of sophisticated data analysis tools to curate, make sense of, and provide useful information.

 
BIOETHICS

The study of complex ethical issues brought about by advances in science, medicine and technology. Examples include genetic engineering, cloning, DNA manipulation, artificial wombs, and genetically modified food.

 
BITCOIN (see: CRYPTOCURRENCY)

 
BOTS (also: CHATBOT)

An anonymous programme on a network that can independently interact with people or systems.

 
CACHE

Data that is stored temporarily on your computer’s operating system after visiting a website. Plus side: the next time you visit the page, your browser can access it from the cache, meaning the page loads fast. Downside: sensitive information (e.g. photographs or messages) could be stored and later read if someone is able to access your computer.

 
CHRONOPHOBIA

Fear of the future.

 
CLICK-BAIT

Web-based content that aims to attract traffic in order to generate advertising revenue. Click-bait is often associated with sensationalist news, false headlines and unreliable information.

 
CLOUD

A model of storage and computing in which information, programmes, and applications are held in external data centres rather than on personal devices.

 
CODING

The act of writing software programmes.

 
COMPUTER SECURITY (also: COMPUTER SAFETY)

A branch of information technology concerned with protecting the data and systems from cyber attacks. A safe system will have confidential (personal data not breached), integrity (changing data), and availability (making data unavailable).

 
COOKIE

Data collected from websites that have been visited by a user and are then stored on a user’s computer. This can include personal details and data collected from users (such as name, age, passwords, and credit card information) and browsing history.

 
CRISPR/CAS9

Gene-editing technology that can manipulate DNA in the nucleus of any cell, enabling the modification of organisms.

 
CRYPTOCURRENCY

A type of currency that exists only in the digital world. Examples include Ethereum and Bitcoin, which are based on payment systems that allow for one person to pay another, without the need for any middle parties, such as banks.

 
CYBERBULLYING

A type of harassment in which people are targeted by others online or via electronic contact. This can include threats, hate speech, sexual harassment, or the use or threat of revealing someone’s personal information or images.

 
DATA

Information; in the context of analytics and technology, information that is created, accessed and stored digitally.

 
DATA ANALYTICS

The process of collecting, cleansing, and modelling data. This process relies heavily on computation that harnesses computer science, statistics and mathematics to produce meaningful information about large amounts of data.

 
DATA CENTRE

An IT infrastructure that houses computer, server and networking systems used to store, process and serve large amounts of data. For example: Google has 15 data centres worldwide, which are responsible for keeping their systems and services running.

 
DATA PRIVACY (also: INFORMATION PRIVACY, DATA PROTECTION)

The concept of protecting an individual’s privacy preferences and their personally identifiable information. This extends to how personal or sensitive information is collected, accessed, stored, used, disclosed or destroyed. How individual data is used and for what purpose are ongoing issues with both legal and political implications.

 
DEEP LEARNING

A branch of machine learning in which many layers of artificial neural networks (ANN) are used to solve problems in a way similar to a human brain. Deep learning can be supervised or unsupervised.

 
DIGITAL DIVIDE

A type of social inequality in which access to technology is not available to all individuals, within certain regions, or to certain groups. This can result in economic disparities and fewer work or education opportunities for those without access.

 
DIGITAL ETHICS (also: TECHNOLOGICAL ETHICS, TECHNOETHICS)

A field dedicated to exploring the moral and ethical challenges posed by modern technology.

 
DIGITAL FOOTPRINT (also: DIGITAL SHADOW, DIGITAL DOSSIER, CYBER-SHADOW)

The individual trail of digital activities and information a user leaves behind, which can be accessed by or is visible to others.

 
ENCRYPTION

The process of securely encoding information (such as a message or data) such that it cannot be accessed by unauthorised users.

 
ENDLESS SCROLL

A design technique where additional content is automatically loaded to a webpage or application, such that the page has no end. Infinite scrolling keeps users from having to load additional pages and encourages them to continue scrolling and remain on the page or platform. For many people, endless scroll can be addictive and difficult to disengage from. Examples include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

 
FINTECH

Technology firms that focus on financial products and services.

 
FIREWALL

A barrier designed to prevent unauthorised or unwanted communications between computers. A firewall is software that can run on a personal device (e.g. as part of Microsoft Windows) or on a dedicated machine to protect a larger network of systems.

 
FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Term referring to our current era, marked by advancements in fields such as robotics, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, IoT, 3D printing, and machine learning.

 
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)

Any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering. GMOs typically include microbes (used in medical purposes), food, plants and animals. As production and sales of GMOs increase, there is controversy over whether such products should be labelled, regulated, and the effects of genetically modified crops on the environment and farmers.

 
GIG ECONOMY

An employment category in which work is available on a temporary or short-term basis. The gig economy is often associated with services available on-demand, such as food delivery, cleaning, driving, and creative services. Pros: offers flexibility. Cons: associated with decreased job stability; little or no workplace protection; and low wages.

 
GLOBALISATION

The process of international integration, marked by increased interdependence between nations and a convergence of cultures, trade, markets, and knowledge and ideas.

 
INTERNET

A set of interconnected networks that allow computers in different locations to exchange information. The Internet includes services such as the world wide web, email, file transfer protocol (FTP), chat and remote access to networks and computers.

 
INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER (ISP)

A company that provides access to the Internet. Examples include: Cox, Time Warner, Comcast.

 
MACHINE LEARNING

A branch of AI that allows computer systems to learn directly from examples, data and experience.

 
MALWARE

Short for ‘malicious software’. It refers to a software program that has been developed to do harm to or compromise the integrity of other computers or systems. Common types of malware are viruses, worms, and spyware.

 
NET NEUTRALITY

The idea that the internet should be open and access to all sites equal in terms of the speed and connectivity in which content can be accessed. (Similar to the way everyone with a home phone line is supplied the same service, even if they live in rural areas.) Without net neutrality, internet providers would be free to purposefully slow connections to certain sites in order to promote others. For example, a service provider could slow access to Netflix in order to drive traffic to its own cable channels.

 
NETWORK SECURITY

The act of reviewing and improving the safety of systems and protocols within a computer network by reducing attack surface by disabling unnecessary components, using cryptography, and strong authentication (e.g. two-factor authentication).

 
ONLINE DISINHIBITION EFFECT

The idea that we are less inhibited online than we would be in real life. This is typically a result of the anonymity we experience virtually as compared to in-person, as in virtual interactions we do not have to directly face the consequences of our words or behaviours. Pros: can normalise taboo topics, decrease self-consciousness, and decrease social isolation, particularly for shy individuals. Cons: can lead to cyberbullying, harassment and cruelty.

 
OPERATING SYSTEM (OS)

The software that manages all of a computer’s processes and allows programs and applications to run. Popular examples include Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS X, and Linux. Mobile phones also run operating systems, primarily Apple iOS and Google Android.

 
PERSONALLY IDENTIFIABLE INFORMATION (PII) or SENSITIVE PERSONAL INFORMATION (SPI)

Information that can be used on its own or with other information to identify, contact, or locate a person. Examples include name, government issued numbers (such as NHS number or Social Security Number), date and place of birth, mother’s maiden name or biometric data. Because so much PII / SPI is stored online, this information can be vulnerable to security breaches.

 
PHISHING

A type of email fraud in which the perpetrator sends emails that appear to come from a legitimate service or reputable company, such as a bank or an email service provider. These emails aim to lure recipients to reveal confidential information that the perpetrator can use for their financial advantage – for example, online banking log-in details and passwords.

 
ROBOTICS

The branch of engineering and science associated with the design, construction, theory and application of robots.

 
ROBOTS

Machines programmed by a computer which can carry out tasks or actions automatically.

 
SCREEN FATIGUE

The psychological and physical symptoms of prolonged activity or overexposure to a computer screen or digital device. Can be marked by physical symptoms, such as cramps in hands or wrists, or vision strain (also known as computer vision syndrome).

 
SERVER

A server is a computer that handles requests for data, email, file transfers, and other network services from other computers.

 
SHARING ECONOMY

Economic and social activity in which access to goods, services or information is available to and shared by many, rather than one individual or company having individual ownership. Examples include: car sharing schemes, Airbnb, Freecycle, eBay and open data initiatives.

 
SINGULARITY (see ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE)

 
SSL, TLS and HTTPS

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a protocol that allows Internet users to send encrypted messages across the Internet. It is generally used when transmitting confidential information (e.g. personal data or credit card details). A web address that begins with “https” indicates that an SSL connection is in use. TLS (Transport Layer Security) is a more secure version of SSL.

 
SUPERINTELLIGENCE (see ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE)

 
TARGETED ADVERTISING

A form of online advertising in which advertisers use information collected about users – such as browsing history, age, gender, sexual orientation, level of education, race, economic status, online activity and purchase history – to more precisely serve them ads they are likely to engage with.

 
TECHNOLOGICAL DISPLACEMENT

The concern that automation will displace employees from their jobs, or render certain jobs or industries obsolete.

 
TECHNOLOGICAL SOLUTIONISM

The idea that technology alone can solve any problem.

 
TERMS OF SERVICE (TOS)

The rules one agrees to abide to in order to use a service. These are typically used for legal purposes for sites where a user’s personal data is stored and often includes the company’s privacy policy, outlining how the user’s personal data can be used.

 
VIRTUAL DISTANCE

A psychological and emotional sense of detachment that accumulates little by little, at the sub-conscious or unconscious level, as people trade-off time interacting with each other for time spent on their devices.

 
VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORK (VPN)

A collection of protocols by which computers and networks can communicate securely with one another. This can occur via encryption (to ensure confidentiality) and hashing (to ensure data integrity). Examples of VPNs include: IPsec & TLS.

 
WEP

Wired equivalent privacy (WEP) is a security protocol used in wi-fi networks. It is designed to provide a wireless local area network (LAN) with a level of security similar to that of a regular wired LAN. WEP-secured networks are usually protected by passwords. (See also WPA.)

 
WI-FI

Wi-Fi is a technology that allows computers and other devices to communicate via a wireless signal. Essentially, it means you can browse the internet without tripping over phone cords.

 
WPA

Wi-Fi protected access (WPA) is a security protocol used in wi-fi networks. It is an improvement on WEP because it offers greater protection through more sophisticated data encryption.

 
 
Our thanks to Eric Pickersgill, Max Stossel, Larry Rosen and Aaron Balick for their help compiling this glossary.

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