Friday Five: Where did the exam algorithm go so wrong?

4 min readAug 21, 2020


Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Where did the exam algorithm go so wrong?

The reputation of algorithms has taken quite a hit over the past couple of weeks. Following widespread outcry after Ofqual’s algorithm downgraded 39% of A-level grades predicted by teachers (amid accusations the system was biased against students from poorer backgrounds), the wretched thing was ditched completely.

But how did it go so wrong? This Wired article explains how the complicated model was dogged by flawed assumptions about data, inaccurate testing and a lack of consultation and transparency. There was also no clear appeals process put in place for the errors made by automated decision-making. Just a few little things, then.

2. Hands-free driving could be legal by 2021

Having to stay alert during tedious motorway trips may soon be a thing of the past, as hands-free driving could be legal on UK roads by spring 2021. The Department for Transport has launched a consultation on automated lane keeping systems (ALKS), which control a car’s movements and can keep it in lane for extended periods.

The technology for a car to steer and stay in lane already exists in some cars (for example Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’), but the current law says drivers must be ready to take over instantly. The next step, which requires a law change, would free the driver up, and in theory they could watch a movie until the car prompts them to take over.

3. Google Maps plots a colourful update

Google Maps is rolling out new visual improvements that will bring more detailed terrain and street-level granularity to your phones. Maps will look much more colourful, with beaches and deserts in tan, snowy mountain tops in white and vegetation in green to give users a better idea of an area at a glance.

Metropolitan areas are also getting an overhaul, with accurate shape and width of roads, pavements and pedestrian crossings to help users navigate the area — particularly handy with more people trying to avoid using public transport. London is among the first to get an updated city map, with plans to expand to more cities.

4. Facebook begins to merge chat apps

Facebook has made clear its plans to unify the messaging platforms of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, so that users can connect across the apps. And the first stage of those plans has begun, with some seeing an update screen popping up on Instagram’s mobile app saying: “There’s a new way to message on Instagram.”

The list of features include a new colourful look, more emojis, swipe-to-reply and the biggie — “chat with friends who use Facebook”. By updating, it basically replaces the Instagram DM icon with the Messenger logo so it’s not actually possible to message Facebook users from Instagram yet, but it’s surely only a matter of time.

5. Netflix’s new feature for very lazy people

Sometimes, when you’ve had a long day, you just want to crash in front of the TV. But have you ever felt so lazy that you can’t even be bothered to choose what to watch? Well, Netflix is coming to the rescue, because it is testing out a ‘shuffle’ button that picks a show based on what you’ve previously watched and puts it on.

I can’t imagine ever wanting to use this feature, to be honest. I suppose it could be useful if you’re forever arguing with your partner or housemates about what to watch — but then surely the argument switches to which user profile you use to spin the wheel of fortune. Still, at least now we know what a low opinion Netflix has of us.




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