Technology in the Public Interest

Strengthening research and advocacy addressing the social impacts of technology.

Why We Do 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 is a place 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 continue, a new set of technological changes are underway that are poised to be equally transformative. Artificial intelligence 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. A world of fully autonomous machines is moving from fiction towards reality.

The rise of machine intelligence presents significant opportunities to help solve complex problems. However, as we put more trust in machines to do what humans used to, there are a range of risks and harms that are unlikely to be adequately addressed without private philanthropy helping to ensure their full consideration through research, policy, and practice. Technology in the Public Interest grantmaking is a response to these dynamics.

Our Approach

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;
  • Helps 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
  • Works to advance the role of philanthropy in protecting the public interest in the development, deployment, and use of artificial intelligence technologies.

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 fundamental research, policy, and practice; and 
  • Strengthening civil liberties in the digital age by improving the governance of digital technology.

Both priorities include general support grants to a group of organizations as well as a small number of time-limited efforts to address specific challenges or opportunities. Underlying both priorities is a commitment to a stronger pipeline of public interest technologists and to increasing civil society's capacity to analyze and translate technological developments for policy audiences and the public.

Technology in the Public Interest does not accept unsolicited proposals.


Updated March 2018


Portrait of Stephanie Platz

Stephanie Platz

Managing Director, Programs
Portrait of Eric Sears

Eric Sears

Senior Program Officer
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Alexandria Becker


Media Contact

Portrait of Sean Harder

Sean Harder

Communications Officer
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