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Public interest technology and its origins

Technology is woven into every aspect of our society and holds promise to unlock human potential in ways that seemed impossible mere decades ago. Yet this rapid transformation has far outpaced government services and regulation, legal jurisdiction, public understanding and corporate norms, leaving us all exposed to unchecked harms.

Public interest technology (PIT) is a growing field made up of technologists who work to ensure technology is created and used responsibly. These technologists call out where technology can improve for the public good, and sometimes question whether certain technologies should be created at all. Technologists are defined not only as engineers, but also include those individuals and organizations with strong perspectives and expertise on the creation, governance and application of technology—from designers to legal experts to artists, activists, and members of communities where technology is deployed.

Public interest technologists seek to center the perspectives of historically marginalized groups—including Black, Indigenous and people of color, women and the disability community—because they are most harmed by technology but also have the knowledge and experience to ensure technology advances justice. PIT combines these perspectives with a knowledge of the way technology works and an understanding of the ethical, legal, policy and societal concerns that shape our world.

Modeled after the framework of public interest law, public interest technology works to ensure technology is designed, deployed, and regulated in a way that protects and improves the lives of people, centering values of equity, inclusion, and accountability where the public interest is at stake.

Ford Foundation’s commitment to public interest technology arose out of a strategy to promote internet rights and digital justice that dates back to the early 2010s. Since 2016, Ford has committed over $100 million to public interest technology to build the ecosystem for a more just technological future for us all.