University of Glasgow prof appointed Engineering X Safer End of Engineered Life Champion

Professor Ana Basiri has been appointed as one of the first Engineering X Safer End of Engineered Life (SEEL) Champions by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

The Champions are a group of 20 researchers in 11 different countries working in a range of industries, sectors and disciplines who are leading projects to improve the way we dismantle and dispose of engineered products and structures.

Each champion is determined to effect change and help raise awareness of the need to plan for end of engineered life and prevent harm to human health and the environment by finding better ways to decommission and dispose of humanity’s vast diversity of manmade artefacts, which now exceeds our planet’s living biomass.

In her role as Champion, Professor Basiri will investigate and promote awareness of two underappreciated aspects of our digital lives: the legal and security implications of the ’digital immortality’ created by our online data living on after our deaths, and the environmental footprint of our digital legacies.

Our digital lives, in the form of social media accounts and email, can be much longer than our physical lives, persisting online past the end of our physical lives. This digital can result in some legal issues related to personal data protection after users’ death and digital inheritance.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act only apply to identifiable or personal data of living people. GDPR can’t protect personal data once the users die. Tech companies and service providers’ approach to dealing with postmortem hacks of user data are inconsistent. Additionally, digital inheritance is not recognised in many countries, including the UK. Users can’t share their password in their will, due to security, and the digital inheritance regulation may not cover many aspects of our digital lives.

As SEEL champion, Prof Basiri will engage with the public, industrial partners including Microsoft Research and Google, and policymakers in the UK and Scottish Government to raise awareness regarding the lack of digital inheritance legislation.

Prof Basiri will also turn her attention to the carbon footprint of digital data, which is stored on servers which requires a great deal of energy to maintain. If the internet was a country, it would be the fifth-biggest energy consumer in the world, responsible for the equivalent of green gas emission of all airline industry. Not having an end of lifetime for digital data set at the beginning can have environmental impacts.

As Champion, she will engage with the public to raise awareness about their digital footprint and similar "nutrition fact label" to communicate the environmental impacts of digital activities in an easy-to-understand language.

Professor Basiri, of the School of Geographical & Earth Sciences, said: "I am proud to be among the first Safer End of Engineered Life Champions. I’m looking forward to doing my part to raise awareness of these complicated issues which are little-recognised by the public, despite our online existences being integral to the lives of many of us."

Margaret Lucas, Dean of Research for the College of Science and Engineering said: "We are delighted Ana Basiri has been appointed as an Safer End of Engineered Life Champion, to join their global community of experts who share our vision to make the world a safer place. This project is an example of our commitment to promote responsible, ethical, legal, and sustainable data science and AI, for a safer world for all."

Safer End of Engineered Life (SEEL) Champions will be part of a global network of experts, learning from each other, the wider SEEL programme and beyond. Through the programme, they will receive a tailored package of support including networking opportunities, communication and other resources.

Professor William Powrie FREng, Professor of Geotechnical Engineering at the University of Southampton and Chair of the Engineering X Safer End of Engineered Life programme, said: "Whenever anything is built, we need to think about how it will eventually be ’unbuilt’ and disposed of, so that at the end of its engineered life it does not cause harm to human health or to the environment. We are identifying and connecting individuals and organisations who are already championing safety at the end of engineered life, bringing them together and providing the support they need to achieve a greater impact. The support needed will vary between individuals, topics and regions; hence we are adopting a flexible and adaptive approach."

Dr Ruth Boumphrey, Director of Research at Lloyd’s Register Foundation and member of the SEEL programme board, said: "Often new products and structures are designed and manufactured with very little thought about what happens when these things are no longer useful-the ’end of engineered life’. This is unsafe and unsustainable. The people who work at the end of engineered life are often overlooked and undervalued, and many work in unsafe conditions. Lloyd’s Register Foundation are proud to be supporting a diverse group of inspiring champions from around the world who are committed to shining a spotlight on these issues and improving safety across a wide range of sectors and geographies. It’s our privilege to support their work."