NYU Launches Alliance to Promote Public Interest Technology

The NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology is a group dedicated to promoting research and discussion regarding public interest technologies.

The advancement of technology is accelerating exponentially. The NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology was launched this week. (Staff Photo by Euan Prentis)

NYU launched a new alliance this Thursday dedicated to promoting research, discussion and collaboration in public interest technologies.

Public interest technologies are tools developed and utilized by public institutions. Facial recognition, computing systems, cloning or genetic engineering all fall under the umbrella of public interest technologies. Founders of the alliance plan to use their resources and knowledge to help and encourage research in these fields. 

The alliance places an emphasis on collaboration with students and other organizations. Vice Provost for Faculty Engagement and Development and an associate for the alliance Charlton McIlwain emphasized this goal.

“When we think about PIT, it means thinking about how we use, design, build technology that serves the public interest, the greater good of society,” McIlwain said.   

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McIlwain worked with a group of faculty to organize people across the university community around the topic of public interest technology. This interdisciplinary group strives to develop NYU as an academic institution at the forefront of discussions surrounding technology and ethics.

“How do we go about trying to amplify the research and work of our faculty that are doing this kind of technology work?” McIlwain asked. “How do we make them more visible both within the university and outside the university?” 

McIlwain believes the alliance can add diversity to the technological workforce and shape future public policy that will emerge to regulate systems, such as artificial intelligence, through recruiting and educating students. One of these potential students is Nicolas Baldwin, who is pursuing a BA/MA bioethics degree.

“What I always found really interesting about biology wasn’t just the science behind it but the social and political ramifications behind it,” Baldwin said. 

Bioethics deals with the issues that can arise from research and biological discoveries, such as abortion and associated technologies. Today, Baldwin believes that many of our society’s larger issues, like healthcare, can be looked at from a bioethics perspective. Discussions regarding abortion, cloning or genetic engineering are all connected with bioethics and these are the conversations the alliance plans to foster.

Ben Blaustein, a CAS senior, said topics surrounding bioethics often seem more fiction than fact.

“Bioethics is very sci-fi in a lot of ways,” Blaustein said. “You’re talking about hypothetical situations, and I think that future is coming way faster than we realize.” 

This future will need to include organizations and larger companies taking on responsibilities that weren’t prioritized before. Baldwin said the prevalence of bioethics conversations as public interest technology remains on the rise.

“I think one of the great shames and educational failures in our society is that we talk about ethics and we talk about what’s good and bad for people but we don’t have a broad education on these issues,” Baldwin said.

From the creation of the bioethics programs at NYU and the introduction of the new Alliance for Public Interest Technology, it is clear that technology and the ethical questions it raises for society will continue to grow in prevalence. 

The introduction of the Alliance for Public Interest Technology indicates a rising need for ethical discussions surrounding the world’s new technologies. But for Blaustein, one question lingers.

“When is it dangerous, and when is it acceptable?” Blaustein asked.

Email Julia Santiago at [email protected]

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