Science & Technology

107 Items

A lighthouse, battered by waves, sits at the center of this dark and stormy seascape.

AP Photo/Matt Dunham

Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Democracy and the Liberal World Order Amid the Rise of Authoritarianism

| Aug. 14, 2023

The entanglement and feedback loops among the domestic and the geopolitical cycles of distrust have resulted in a cohesive threat to democracy: a downward political spiral that is pulling societies towards enmity. This spiral feeds on and generates destructive human emotions at massive scale, such as outrage and hatred, that lead to violence, war, and autocracy, so it can be better understood as a dangerous global maelstrom of distrust, which could sink democracy worldwide. As showcased by historical evidence, domestic and international forces do not act in isolation from each other. Democratic backsliding, the rise of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, and the politics of aggression generated feedback loops in the 1930s, that resulted in WWII. Similar forces are again working in the 2020s. If massive distrust can wreck democracy worldwide, it follows that the regeneration of trust is the path to democratic revitalization.

Report - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Technology Primer: Social Media Recommendation Algorithms

| Aug. 25, 2022

The use of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok is increasingly widespread, currently amounting to billions of users worldwide. Social media companies deploy proprietary recommendation algorithms to automate the selection, ranking, and presentation of content on the platform’s “feed” or recommended content section, every time a user opens or refreshes the site or app. However, social media recommendation algorithms have a range of privacy, security, information quality, and psychological concerns for users. 

A successful approach to the regulation of social media recommendation algorithms will require a combination of government regulation, self governance, and external oversight to facilitate value alignment across these diverse actors and tackle the various challenges associated with this technology. This publication explores the technical components of social media recommendation systems, as well as their public purpose considerations. 

teaser image


Digital Crime Scenes: The Role of Digital Evidence in the Persecution of LGBTQ People in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia

  • Afsaneh Rigot
| Mar. 07, 2022

Digital evidence–primarily from device searches–has made it easier for law enforcement to identify, harass, and prosecute LGBTQ people on the basis of their identity. This new report by Technology and Public Purpose fellow and Berkman Klein Center affiliate Afsaneh Rigot draws on years of in-depth research, including reviews of individual court case files and interviews with defense attorneys in Egypt, Lebanon, and Tunisia, to demonstrate the painful and unjust impacts of these developments, as well as the communities’ resilience. 

Afsaneh Rigot has deep experience with both the needs and views of queer people in MENA as well as engaging tech companies to make meaningful change. She advocates for a methodology she terms Design from the Margins. Rigot calls on companies to use the findings of this report to build from the essential needs of those most impacted by their tools, creating better tech for all users in the process.

U.S. Military Academy cadets watch data on computers

AP Photo

Journal Article - Quarterly Journal: International Security

Prediction and Judgment: Why Artificial Intelligence Increases the Importance of Humans in War

  • Avi Goldfarb
  • Jon R. Lindsay
| Winter 2021/22

Rather than rapid robotic wars and decisive shifts in military power, AI-enabled conflict will likely involve significant uncertainty, organizational friction, and chronic controversy. Greater military reliance on AI will therefore make the human element in war even more important, not less.

Les Droits de l’Homme, 1947 - a surrealist painting showing an anthropomorphic chess piece standing on a bridge next to a flaming tuba.

Rene Magritte


Whose Streets? Our Streets! (Tech Edition)

  • Rebecca Williams
| August 2021

This report is an urgent warning of where we are headed if we maintain our current trajectory of augmenting our public space with trackers of all kinds. In this report, I outline how current “smart city” technologies can watch you. I argue that all “smart city” technology trends toward corporate and state surveillance and that if we don’t stop and blunt these trends now that totalitarianism, panopticonism, discrimination, privatization, and solutionism will challenge our democratic possibilities. This report examines these harms through cautionary trends supported by examples from this last year and provides 10 calls to action for advocates, legislatures, and technology companies to prevent these harms. If we act now, we can ensure the technology in our public spaces protect and promote democracy and that we do not continue down this path of an elite few tracking the many. 

Report - Technology and Public Purpose

Building a 21st Century Congress: A Playbook for Modern Technology Assessment

| June 2021

How can United States policymakers better understand the next generation of emerging technologies and their societal implications? How can we make more educated decisions on the basic and applied research needed to solve the next generation of emerging threats? 

The 117th Congress and the Biden Administration must urgently address these questions to protect the lives and livelihoods of those living in the United States.

A quantum computer

Adobe Stock

Policy Brief

Using Advance Market Commitments for Public Purpose Technology Development

  • Alan Ho
  • Jake Taylor
| June 2021

Advance Market Commitments (AMCs) are a powerful policy tool that can be used to ensure that America can retain leadership in technology fields such as climate change, computing, and medicine. In an AMC, a U.S. agency commits to buying some specified new technology before that technology exists. This provides a price, specification, and framework for evaluation that can streamline decision making and funding approaches in the private sector and accelerate progress towards well defined technical outcomes without being directed about the underlying solution and steps along the path. As such, AMCs represent a powerful option for ground-up technological building where private investment replaces the role of more traditional, blue sky government funding, and the larger market for the resulting product is jump-started by an initial government market.

A scene of the Bay Bridge with San Francisco in the background

Adobe Stock


Venture Capital and Public Purpose Playbook

  • Liz Sisson 
  • Nathalie Gazzaneo
  • Campbell Howe
| April 2021

The Venture Capital Public Purpose Indicator and this accompanying playbook provide guidance to VCs and startups that are interested in preventing negative consequences and in laying a public purpose foundation.  They can be used alongside other existing diligence or planning processes.


The Coming AI Hackers

| April 2021

Hacking is generally thought of as something done to computer systems, but this conceptualization can be extended to any system of rules. The tax code, financial markets, and any system of laws can be hacked. This essay considers a world where AIs can be hackers. This is a generalization of specification gaming, where vulnerabilities and exploits of our social, economic, and political systems are discovered and exploited at computer speeds and scale.