The arc of innovative progress has reached an inflection point.

Technological change has brought immeasurable benefits to billions through improved health, productivity, and convenience. Yet as recent events have shown, unless we actively manage their risks to society, new technologies may also bring unforeseen destructive consequences. Making technological change positive for all is the critical challenge of our time. We ourselves - not only the logic of discovery and market forces - must manage it. To create a future where technology serves humanity as a whole, we need a new approach. 

To this end, Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs launched the Technology and Public Purpose (TAPP) Project in 2018. Led by Belfer Center Director, MIT Innovation Fellow, and former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the TAPP Project works to ensure that emerging technologies are developed and managed in ways that serve the overall public good.  

Much as the reforms of the Progressive movement softened the edges of the farm-to-factory migration a century ago, we aim to create a set of conditions that leaven today's technological change across three domains: digital, biotech, and the future of work. TAPP leverages a network of experts from Harvard University, MIT, and the Greater Boston Area, along with leaders in technology, government, business, and civil society to work on the following priorities: 

Training & Mentorship – Training today's practitioners and tomorrow's leaders in the responsible development and management of new technologies. 

Convening Stakeholders – Convening leaders in tech, policy, academia, and civil society to develop solutions to the societal dilemmas of emerging technologies. 

Publishing Leading Edge Research – Conducting world-class research on high-risk technologies and frameworks for effective development and governance.

When I began my career in elementary particle physics, the great figures who taught and inspired me had been part of the Manhattan Project generation that developed the atomic bomb. They were proud to have created a ‘disruptive’ technology that ended World War II and deterred a third world war through more than 50 years of tense East-West standoff. They were also proud to have made nuclear power possible. But their understanding of the underlying technology also gave them a deep regard for the awesome, unavoidable risks that came with those technologies.

As a consequence, they dedicated themselves to inventing, in parallel, the technologies behind arms control (like reconnaissance satellites to verify agreements) and nuclear reactor safety (like containment vessels for radioactive leakages). By working on both the bright opportunities and the complex dilemmas of nuclear technology, these scientists tried to round out its effect on humanity. They recognized that the advance of knowledge is inevitable, but it needs to be steered in the direction of public good.

Technologists in my generation understood that we had an opportunity—and an obligation—to use our knowledge in the service of civic life and public purpose. Technologists today have the same obligation and society is in need of practical, analytically driven solutions to the problems that arise in connection with fast-paced technological change. Such solutions will emerge only if the new generation of young tech innovators is encouraged and inspired to assume the civic responsibilities that come with creating changes of great consequence.

Ash Carter

Student Research Assistants

TAPP will be recruiting student researchers for the 2021-2022 academic year. If you're interested in working with our project, please send us an email at tapp_project@hks.harvard.edu.

Technology Factsheets for Policymakers

The Technology Factsheet Series offers a brief overview of the technical aspects of salient technologies and their public purpose relevance for policymakers and their staff. As a collaboration between policy and technical experts, this series aims to provide the policy professionals with an accessible resource that brings its readers up to speed at a conversational level. Each brief is accompanied with a series of questions that policymakers should consider as they pursue future work on these evolving issues.

Interested in a factsheet topic not already included in our series? Suggest a topic here. 

The following factsheets are listed in alphabetical order.


5G refers to fifth-generation cellular network technology, and includes both the mobile broadband infrastructure as well as 5G devices that rely on the network. 

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be defined as the theory and application of machines—especially computer programs—to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence, such as image labeling and generation, speech recognition and synthesis, natural language understanding and production, as well as various other perception-action based engagements. 

Battery Technology

A battery is a device which stores chemical energy and converts it to electrical energy. Battery technology is pervasive for individual consumers and in scaled operations, whether that is through the use of smart- phone, automotive vehicles, or even large-scale data centers.


Blockchain is a type of distributed ledger technology (DLT) that stores data (commonly immutable and sequenced transaction records) in a decentralized manner via encryption and consensus algorithms.


Deepfakes can be defined as synthetic auditory or visual media developed using deep learning, a subfield of machine learning (ML), that appear to be authentic and are often created with the intent of deceiving audiences. 

Differential Privacy

Differential privacy is a safeguard used to protect an individual’s data privacy. It allows for the collection and publication of data patterns and trends, while protecting the privacy of individuals captured in a dataset.

Gene Drives

Gene drives can be defined as genetic elements that pass from parents to unusually high numbers of their offspring due to biased inheritance (sometimes referred to as the possession of “selfish” genetic elements).

Genome Editing

Genome Editing (also called “gene editing”) is defined as “a group of technologies that give scientists the ability to change an organism’s DNA.”

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) generally refers to a network of smart devices that can continuously sense or interact with their environment. (Spring 2019)

Machine Learning

Machine Learning (ML), commonly categorized as a subfield of Artificial Intelligence (AI), is a field of study concerning how to automatically extract meaningful information from data with statistical algorithms. 

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing refers to the use of quantum properties—the properties of nature on an atomic scale—to solve complex problems much faster than conventional, or classical, computers.

Solar Geoengineering

Solar geoengineering refers to a set of emerging technologies that could alter the Earth’s radiative balance—perhaps through injecting aerosols into the stratosphere, where they would reflect a small fraction of sunlight back into space—reducing the amount of climate change caused by greenhouse gases. 

Synthetic Biology

Synthetic biology (sometimes referred to as “SynBio”) is broadly defined as the application of engineering principles to biology, and in practice, refers to emerging technology that allows living organisms to be modified to serve user-defined purposes. 

Vaccine Platforms

A vaccine platform is a “plug -and-play” physical framework that can be used when developing vaccines for emerging infectious diseases, such as COVID-19. Vaccine platforms use a base carrier or “vehicle,” such as a nucleic acid, viral vector, or liposome, which can be used interchangeably for various diseases.

Technology and Public Purpose Fellowship 

In recent years, dilemmas posed by rapid technological innovation have become more complex and acute. The TAPP Fellowship, crafted in response to a greater need to train people to carry out tech policy and practitioner analysis in both government and industry, is tailored for individuals from all disciplines with a demonstrated interest in technology and public purpose. Fellows are appointed for a one-year term and are part of a cohort responsible for conducting research in a tech and public purpose field, such as improving digital media, managing the geopolitics of technology, designing ethical AI and biotech, improving the alignment of new forms of work with human fulfillment, and in general shaping technological progress to enhance public purposes.

The program itself is comprised of three main components: trainings and workshops, community building events, and fellowship project research and development:

  • Trainings and Workshops: A mixture of trainings, research methodology and practical skills workshops, and fellow-led talks that aim to expand fellows’ understanding of technology and public purpose topics, as well as equip fellows with the necessary knowledge and skills effectively accomplish their research projects.
  • Community Building: Events and activities which aim to build and strengthen relationships between the fellows - within their cohort, the larger TAPP Fellowship community, and between other technology policy fellowship programs.
  • The Fellowship Project: Research and development for individually scoped fellowship projects related to technology and public purpose. The project cycle runs the full duration of the fellowship, with structured phases and key milestones; all fellows are expected to produce a project output by the end of their fellowship period. The project component is supported by a formal mentorship and advising program with relevant experts in the TAPP and Harvard community, as well as by the other two listed programming components.

At the end of 9-month program, fellows will present their project during a public “Showcase Day” event. The event will act as a presentation and close out event to demonstrate the results of their research and work.

2020-2021 TAPP Fellows and Projects

Democracy and Internet Governance Initiative

In 2021, Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy launched the Democracy and Internet Governance Initiative (DIGI), a joint initiative to convene a range of stakeholders across government, business, and civil society to address the growing public concerns about digital platforms.

DIGI is co-chaired by HKS Professor of Technology and Global Affairs Ash Carter, the Director of the Belfer Center and former U.S. Secretary of Defense, and Professor of the Practice of Press, Politics and Public Policy Nancy Gibbs, the Director of the Shorenstein Center and former Editor-in-Chief of TIME. Dr. Joan Donovan, the Research Director of the Shorenstein Center, will lead the Shorenstein Center initiative.

Over the next year, researchers for the Initiative will convene leading experts and stakeholders to evaluate policy and self-governance options for both short- and long-term action on high-priority issue areas. The team will then work to develop high-level recommendations for U.S. policymakers and private sector actors in three key areas:

  • The Right to Speak: Addressing Networked Harassment, Chilled Speech, and Diminished Press Freedom 

  • The Right to Safety: Countering Extremism and Incitement to Violence Online  

  • The Right to Truth: Mitigating Misinformation and Disinformation at Scale 

Through public reports and briefings with policymakers, business leaders, and civil society organizations, the Initiative will highlight digital platform reform options, as well as offer expertise on legislative reform proposals and platform self-governance options. The Initiative will be supported by a gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies. 

Sign up and follow us @ShorensteinCtr and Belfer’s @TAPP_Project to stay tuned to the latest events, research, and publications from the Initiative.

For information and inquiries, please email tapp_project@hks.harvard.edu.


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