Technology in the Public Interest
Strengthening research and advocacy addressing the social impacts of technology.
Why We Support This Work
The internet and related technologies have fundamentally reshaped how people everywhere communicate, share knowledge, and understand the world. The rise and spread of this communication infrastructure was cause for great optimism among many as it catalyzed freedom of speech and access to information, enabled rapid innovation, and facilitated new types of accountability and civic participation. However, these advances are coupled with significant challenges. The internet and social media platforms are places where speech can both thrive and be censored by government and private sector actors. Access to information is democratized and also controlled. Lies and hatred can spread as quickly as truth in the digital environment. The internet and related technologies have introduced new and deepening threats to privacy and security, a challenge that will increase with the growth of internet connected devices.
While efforts to address the public interest opportunities and challenges posed by the internet and social media platforms continue, a new set of technological changes are underway that are poised to be equally transformative. Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, primarily driven by advances in machine learning, are augmenting or replacing human decision making across domains ranging from healthcare to education and criminal justice to financial services. Growing interdisciplinary and intersectional research demonstrates how these technologies can introduce new risks and harms that often disproportionately impact marginalized people and communities. Yet AI-related technologies are being integrated with minimal public oversight, few accountability mechanisms, and too little thought to understanding their social impacts.
Beneath the veneer of technological innovation is an old story about how power operates. The changes in society triggered by new technology are both creating and augmenting power asymmetries between and among people and institutions. How that power evolves is essential to understand and address in order to advance justice and equity in the digital age. Technology in the Public Interest grantmaking is a response to these dynamics.
Technology in the Public Interest works to ensure that:
- MacArthur has a deep understanding of civil rights and civil liberties challenges in the digital age;
- The Foundation's Big Bet and Enduring Commitment teams identify and become knowledgeable about how changes in technology could have an impact on their grantmaking; and
- MacArthur advances the role of philanthropy in addressing the social implications of technology.
Two grantmaking priorities ground this work:
- Developing the capacity of civil society to ensure that the social implications of artificial intelligence are addressed by advancing efforts that connect research, policy, and practice; and
- Strengthening civil rights and civil liberties in the digital age by improving the governance of digital technology.
Grantmaking aims to support an ecosystem of people, organizations, and networks. We seek to advance justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion across our work and increase civil society’s capacity to analyze and translate technology developments for policymakers and the public.
We are not accepting unsolicited proposals at this time.
Measurement and Evaluation for Learning
Evaluation of our work is a critical tool for informing our decision making, leading to better results and more effective stewardship of resources. We develop customized evaluation designs for each of our programs based on the context, problem, opportunity, and approach to the work. Evaluation is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing process of collecting feedback and using that information to support our grantees and adjust our strategy.
We have engaged Social Policy Research Associates as an evaluation and learning partner to build and carry out our evaluation framework for Technology in the Public Interest.
Findings and analyses from evaluation activities are posted publicly as they become available.
Updated June 2021