“I use ‘disruptive’ in both its good and bad connotations. Disruptive scientific and technological progress is not to me inherently good or inherently evil. But its arc is for us to shape. Technology’s progress is furthermore in my judgment unstoppable. But it is quite incorrect that it unfolds inexorably according to its own internal logic and the laws of nature.”
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 Stanford, along with leaders in technology, government, and business to work on the following priorities:
Responsible Innovation – Collaborating with innovators and entrepreneurs on the responsible development and commercialization of emerging technologies.
Tech Policy – Providing educational training and tools to increase policymakers’ understanding of emerging technologies.
Global Governance – Advancing international efforts to develop frameworks and best practices for governing high-risk technologies
Generation Next – Training and inspiring a new generation of technology leaders to make advancing public purpose a part of their life calling.
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.
Ash Carter (Co-Chair) - Director, Belfer Center
Eric Schmidt (Co-Chair) - Former Executive Chairman, Google and Alphabet, Inc.
Reid Hoffman - Co-Founder and Executive Chairman, LinkedIn; Partner, Greylock Ventures
Joi Ito - Director, MIT Media Lab
Eric Lander - President and Founding Director, Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Kevin Scott - CTO, Microsoft
Kara Swisher - Co-Founder, Recode
Others to be confirmed.
Doug Beck – Vice President, Americas and Northeast Asia, Apple
Tim Hwang - Director, Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative, Berkman-Klein Center and MIT Media Lab
Bernadette Johnson – Chief Technology Ventures Officer, MIT Lincoln Laboratory
John Lilly – Partner, Greylock Ventures
Chris Lynch – Founding Director, Defense Digital Services
James Manyika - Director, McKinsey Global Institute
DJ Patil – Former Inaugural U.S. Chief Data Scientist
Katie Rae – CEO and Managing Partner, The Engine
Tim O'Reilly - Founder and CEO, O'Reilly Media
Deb Roy - Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT and Co-Founder and Chairman, Cortico
Steve Strassman - Visiting Scholar, Wyss Institute
Others to be confirmed.
Student Research Assistants:
Aaron Bartnick: MPA Candidate ’20, Harvard Kennedy School
Emily Chi: MPP Candidate ’20, Harvard Kennedy School
Harshini Jayaram: MPP Candidate ’21, Harvard Kennedy School; MBA Candidate ‘21, Harvard Business School
Nate Kim: MPP Candidate ’20, Harvard Kennedy School
Alexander Krey: MPA Candidate '20, Harvard Kennedy School; MBA Candidate '20, Stanford Business School
Angela Winegar: MPP Candidate ’21, Harvard Kennedy School; MBA Candidate ‘21, Harvard Business School