To compete and thrive in the 21st century, democracies, and the United States in particular, must develop new national security and economic strategies that address the geopolitics of information. In the 20th century, market capitalist democracies geared infrastructure, energy, trade, and even social policy to protect and advance that era’s key source of power—manufacturing. In this century, democracies must better account for information geopolitics across all dimensions of domestic policy and national strategy.
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 has launched a new endeavor, the Technology and Public Purpose (TAPP) Project. 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.
Student Research Assistants:
Jenny Blessing: S.M. Candidate ’21, MIT
Raj Gambir: BA '22, Harvard College
Nathalie Gazzaneo: MPP Candidate, Harvard Kennedy School
Nikhil George: MIT Sloan MBA/ Harvard Kennedy School MPA '22
Campbell Howe: MPP ’22, Harvard Kennedy School
Jenna Hussein: MPP '22, Harvard Kennedy School and MBA '22, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Min Hwang: MPA ‘21, Harvard Kennedy School; MBA Candidate ’21, Wharton School
Mark Karugarama: MSc in Digital Innovation, Bentley University
Jesse Lin: MPP ’22, Harvard Kennedy School
Catherine McAnney: MPP Candidate ’23, Harvard Kennedy School; MBA Candidate ’23, Harvard Business School
Madeleine Smith: MPP Candidate ’23, Harvard Kennedy School; MBA Candidate ’23, Harvard Business School
Ena Solórzano: MPA ’22, Harvard Kennedy School
Julie Stern: MS Student, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University
Conor Truax: BASc Candidate '22, University of Waterloo
Yuqi Zhu: MPP’22, Harvard Kennedy School
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 privacy, safety and security, transparency and accountability, or inclusion.
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 TAPP Fellows
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.
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 (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.
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.
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 (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 (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 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 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 (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.
Contact us for more information on the Technology and Public Purpose Project.