Policy Brief

The Public-Purpose Consortium: Enabling Emerging Technology with a Public Mission

  • Jake Taylor
| October 2020

Imagine a speculative technology, one that is destined to change lives and improve the world, but also one where many scientific and practical questions remain to be answered. Companies and entrepreneurs, already seeing the potential, have begun spinning up new efforts and launching startups to realize products and services. You know that investors are likely underestimating both the difficulty posed by the technology and the long-term impact. The science and engineering remain far from that necessary to achieve those goals, much less understand the unintended consequences. You are now tasked with enabling the economic growth implied by these opportunities while ensuring both scientific progress and minimizing unintended negative outcomes. What do you do?

Faced with this challenge in the still esoteric field of quantum information science, leaders in the Government and I worked with stakeholders from across the United States and around the world to build a foundational approach for this new technology. Rather than using a roadmap with product or milestone driven development, we instead focused on building a community around the emerging technologies and scientific challenges necessary to build quantum computers. These are devices that operate at the very limits set by nature in what and how they compute and are fantastically hard to create – so much so that their basic operation and architecture are areas of active research. And their impact is fantastically broad, thus the need to both temper expectations and enable cooperation. In executing a program to enable this new sector, we developed a specific approach for solving the challenge of blending profit motive and public good that leverages the mechanism of consortia.

We are at a moment in time where cooperation between public-purpose stakeholders and profit-motive stakeholders can be an effective means of integrating public purpose into technology as it emerges. This brief covers the basic concept of a public-purpose consortium (PPC), examination of what combination of factors lead to their use for emerging technologies, and considers the key principles for organizing PPCs and enabling their success: Build Community, Enable Cooperation, Ensure Value, Institute Governance, and Keep It Lightweight.

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For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Taylor, Jake. “The Public-Purpose Consortium: Enabling Emerging Technology with a Public Mission.” Policy Brief, October 2020.

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