Cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken, who is based in Dublin, is the model for Patricia Arquette’s character in CSI Cyber, the latest version of CSI Miami. She talks about her work to Arlene Harris
CRIME show CSI Miami has had spin-offs set in New York and LA, but the latest version, CSI Cyber, which will air in March, is set in another US city, Quantico, Virginia, but based on an Irishwoman.
The main character, Special Agent Avery Ryan (played by Patricia Arquette) was modelled on cyber-psychologist Mary Aiken, who is based at the RCSI cyber psychology department in Dublin.
Aiken says our expertise in this field is second-to-none. So not only was the fictitious agent based on her work, but Aiken was also asked to help with the production of the show.
“This was an incredible opportunity for me to bring cyber psychology to a large audience to entertain them, of course, but, more importantly, to make people aware of the increasing need for cyber safety and ongoing security issues,” she says.
“Ireland is a centre of excellence in this field and there is a lot of interest in our research from international organisations.”
Aiken’s background is forensic psychology and then she became aware of the need to understand the psychology of the anonymous users of the internet.
“Cyber-psychology is the study of the impact of emerging technology on human behaviour,” she says. “My job is specifically focused on two areas — the first is technology-facilitated crime, such as fraud, which was always around, but has been made easier with the advances in technology.
“The other area I work on is crime that didn’t exist before the internet and has only evolved because the technology is around to support it.”
Mary Aiken (Photo: MaryAiken.com)
There has been a lot of talk about the safety of children online, and Aiken says that while parents have a responsibility to ensure their children stay away from potentially harmful areas, protection facilities should also be put in place.
“At what stage did society decide that parents are exclusively responsible for what their children get up to online?” Aiken asks.
“I want to know why all problems have been pushed back onto parents and teachers,” she says. “I think we need to take a fresh look atbehaviours and come up with a different response.
“More protocols need to be put in place and I think we should call for a radical rethink of our policies and our approach to internet safety.
“At the moment, there is a notable absence of formal teaching, or any form of governance, with regard to this issue and this leads to cyber-feral behaviours.”
The psychologist says we need to start thinking of the online world as a real place, where people, particularly children, require guidance on how to behave and on which areas to avoid. “Cyber space is an actual environment, not just an amplified version of the telephone,” she says. “When children go there, it is as if they are going into an unknown area unaccompanied.
“There is no guidance online telling them right from wrong, and no one is in charge.
“In the real world, parents, teachers and older siblings are never far away from children as they are growing up, so, in this sense, society helps to raise them.
“But while there are moderators on social-network sites, it is impossible to know what is going on with over a billion users and we only hear of problems when something major happens.
“This is why we need a rethink — a paradigm shift in how we approach the issue of safety online.”
Aiken says the internet is a wonderful tool for most of the global population, but there is a minority who will always seek to abuse it and, for this reason, her role as a cyber psychologist is vital for understanding how various mind-sets work.
“The technology of today was designed to be engaging and inviting for normal society,” she says.
“But, at the time, no-one thought of the abnormal, vulnerable or criminal minds which are also online — who is taking care of them or watching what they are up to? This is why we need cyber-psychologists, because, for too long, everything to do with technology focused on data and devices.
“Our job is to look at the human perspective and, in particular, to try and create a better environment for those who are young and/or vulnerable.”
A pilot for the new CSI Cyber show was shown on RTÉ 2 before Christmas, and the series will air in the spring.
“The series is based on my work and I went out to LA to help writers with the production,” she says. “I have no doubt that people will find the series entertaining, but, most importantly, it will make them aware of cyber safety and help them to understand more about the online world.”
CSI Cyber will be aired on CBS in March
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