GW Joins University Network to Advance Public Interest Technology

University will prepare a new generation of leaders to recognize and consider the societal implications of new technologies.

May 15, 2020

Professors Gate

George Washington University is expanding its commitment to developing and applying technology expertise for the public good through a new collaborative partnership with the Public Interest Technology University Network (PIT-UN).

GW joins Arizona State University, Georgetown University, Virginia Tech, Stanford University, Georgia Tech, the University of Texas at Austin and a number of other colleges and universities – 36 in total – in the PIT-UN dedicated to growing a new interdisciplinary field around public interest technology. Its aim is to place people, especially those most vulnerable or marginalized, at the center of technology development and grow "a new generation of civic-minded technologists and digitally fluent policy leaders." This will ensure new technologies advance the public interest and promote the public good.

The partnership is an opportunity for GW to combine its historical strengths in fields like law, policy and international affairs with technology innovation, said Robert Miller, GW’s vice president for research.

"As a member of PIT-UN, GW has an opportunity to help define and be a leader in an entirely new area of cross-disciplinary education and research," Dr. Miller said. "The GW community is uniquely qualified to contribute new scholarship in the field of public interest technology and to train future leaders that will drive positive societal change."

A group comprising representatives from schools and divisions across the university is actively engaged in the network and the topic of public interest technology. Interested faculty may lend their expertise and request to join this group by emailing [email protected].

Susan Aaronson, a research professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs and director of the Digital Trade and Data Governance Hub, is acting as faculty lead for the PIT-UN effort. She said these types of opportunities incentivize faculty to center their technology research and teaching around public interest and public good.

"Technology has disrupted how we do everything, from finding a date to how we shop, how we do research. It is going to disrupt how we educate," she said. "I think these grants will help us better serve our students and each other as we move into that future."

PIT-UN launched in 2019 to ensure that future leaders and innovators consider, evaluate and consciously address the social, political and economic dimensions of technological innovations. Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of the think tank New America, under which PIT-UN launched, said the network’s 36 colleges and universities have committed to working together to address society’s most pressing problems through the “rigorous and thoughtful application of the best tools developed by the best minds at their institutions.

"This remarkable collaboration sets a precedent for the type of partnerships that will be essential in tackling new and enduring problems such as poverty, discrimination and environmental degradation that plague our society and require the full commitment of institutions to make lives better for all," she said.

Through an annual network challenge, PIT-UN provides funding to member institutions interested in launching public interest technology initiatives or projects on their campuses.

This year’s challenge will prioritize projects addressing the needs of communities historically denied access to new technologies, excluded from conversations concerning technology and policy or prevented from joining the technology workforce, according to PIT-UN. GW will be allowed to submit three proposals.

Faculty interested in taking part in this year’s challenge should submit their CV and a two-page description of a proposed project by May 26 . Proposed projects will be reviewed by a GW selection committee, and three will be submitted for the challenge. PIT-UN plans to announce challenge awardees in October for the grant period January 2021 to January 2022.

The PIT-UN is supported by the PIT-UN Challenge Fund, which is supported by founding funders the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Mastercard Impact Fund, Schmidt Futures, Craig Newmark Philanthropies and other supporters.