What does it mean to be a technologist in a social justice space? Who benefits from tech and who is left behind? How can we ensure the internet works for the benefit of all and not just a few? These are questions that public interest technologists seek to address in their work.
Public interest technologists aim to bridge the gap between what technologies are trying to build and what issues social scientists are trying to solve.
Technology can make a positive difference in our world. But as it rapidly grows and changes our lives, opening up new avenues and showing us fresh possibilities, tech can also deepen existing inequalities. We believe in harnessing technology to serve justice and the public interest – and we see a wealth of opportunities to do so.
That’s why the Ford Foundation is working with a community of partners to develop a path for people to use their technology skills to change the world for the better: the professional field of public interest technology. Public interest technology is just what it sounds like – technology used to serve the public good. That can mean working to ensure that as the US census goes online for the first time, it is accessible and accurate. It can mean researching the negative side effects of using artificial intelligence in our criminal justice system, or even developing technical standards that emphasize privacy and free expression.
Learn more about the individuals and organizations growing the field of Public Interest Tech.
Other videos in this series
Privacy is fundamental to our lives. Unanswered public policy questions raised by new technologies need to be addressed. Danny Weitzner, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says as a society, we have to be directly engaged in these public interest technology questions to ensure new tools support human values.
Internet access is an indispensable factor when it comes to opportunities and resources needed for economic mobility. Public interest technologist Susan Crawford says government regulation is necessary to ensure provider incentives align with the public’s best interest and help create a better future for all.
Workers can use tools of the internet to push for better working conditions and outcomes, building a future of work that works for all. Michelle Miller, co-founder of coworker.org, focusses on building digital communities that put the power of numbers in the hands of the workforce.
The age of automated decision making, through algorithms, can exacerbate inequalities in society. The ACLU’s Kate Crockford believes we need to bring technologists into the public interest fold to address this worrying issue. Lawyers like Crockford play an important part in ensuring digital technologies work for the benefit of all.
Joy Buolamwini – Fighting the “coded gaze:” How we make artificial intelligence benefit all. Public Interest Tech
The automation of how computers detect, classify, and identify faces can favor some races and genders over others and also deepen existing inequalities. Public interest technologist Joy Buolamwini is building tools to help researchers code in a more inclusive way.
Technology can help build a future of work that works for all. Sarita Gupta from Jobs with Justice explains how we can use technology to improve workers’ lives. Public interest technologists and social change leaders need to come together to design systems and tools that benefit all.
Through her work, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg asks deep questions about technology and how it functions and impacts society. She says we need to make the hidden world of biotechnology more visible to people, acknowledging its shortcomings and nuances to help ensure genetic privacy.
Cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier says we need to find innovative ways to use surveillance data for the public good, while still maintaining our individual security. Tech decisions have policy ramifications, and policy decisions have tech ramifications—bridging the two worlds benefits everyone.
Technology can help us envision new ways of living. Artists can show us just what technology is capable of doing. But for tech to be truly inclusive, everyone needs to have a say in how it’s created. Artist collective Hyphen-Labs encourages experimenting with how we see the world.
There is implicit bias in artificial intelligence (AI). Artist Stephanie Dinkins wants data scientists and technologists to think about the ethical implications of AI and how better systems can be built for the future. Her work questions what machines are doing and why, so they can be more equitable and fair.
The internet is a shared safe space and should remain so. Éirann Leverett believes hacking can be used for public good. He maintains the issue of privacy and security should be seen as a consumer rights issue, and the internet should be treated as a public utility.
Etienne Maynier – Are these 5 tools in your organization’s digital security toolbox? Public Interest Tech
Fighting for a society that’s more equal means upholding the individual right to privacy. Etienne Maynier explains that digital surveillance is a pressing threat that feeds inequality. Protecting ourselves and our information is an important part of using technology to create a better society for all.
Having a free and open internet allows every person to read and speak freely online. Open Web Fellow Jennifer Helsby works to uphold freedom of the press and digital security, which are essential for journalists to maintain democracy.
Censorship and online surveillance decrease opportunities for civic engagement. Social justice activist Berhan Taye Gemeda says access to the internet is a right, and she believes the internet should be governed by the public because it was created for the public. Accessible internet is essential for social change.
Organizations need to be proactive in protecting themselves from digital threats. Hacker Matt Mitchell says it’s not a matter of if you will be hacked as an organization, it’s a matter of when. Having an understanding of these digital threats and planning before problems occur is vital.
Public interest technologists show us how tech can work for social good and help fight inequality. They work to bridge the gap between what technologies are trying to build and what social scientists are trying to solve.
Internet users don’t know how their metadata is being used or exploited for monetary or tracking purposes. Open Web Fellow Sid Rao aims to give people the tools to protect their digital privacy by knowing how their internet activities are being monitored.
In the fight for equality, the way technology is developed should be a key issue. Open Web Fellow Steffania Paola Costa di Albanez says developers should reflect the diversity of those who use technology and represent a wide variety of user experiences, from women to Black women.
There is implicit bias in tech that leads to prediction errors and deepens existing inequalities. Data scientist Suchana Seth believes we need to develop standards against algorithmic bias so that we can harness the power of tech for social good.