Technology for Public Interest

At a time when technology shapes every facet of our lives, there’s a growing consensus that its role should be evaluated in a social context so that questions of impact and consequence are considered from inception. Considering public interest technology is a priority for universities and their partners, particularly in the area of health impacts, both unintended, and with respect to designs that exclude or disadvantage certain groups. The issue comprises individual rights, justice, social welfare and public good, and has repercussions in both developed and developing countries.

ASU is commited to taking responsibility for the social, economic, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves. Thus it is a charter member of the Public Interest Technology University Network, a partnership of 21 colleges and universities dedicated to building the nascent field of public interest technology and growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists. ASU also strongly associates public interest technology with related concepts such as responsible innovation and humanitarian engineering, both of which bring public interest technology cognates into the international context.

While public interest technology activities are distributed widely across the university, one focal point is the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Created in 2015, the school is a transdisciplinary unit at the vanguard of ASU’s commitment to linking innovation to public value. Foundation Professor and Founding Director of the school Dave Guston will serve as a representative for ASU to the network. 

In addition to degree programs and areas of study, ASU has several programs and initiatives that address the concerns and needs of those interested in technology for public good. Science Outside the Lab explores the relationships among science, policy and societal outcomes in a two-week workshop in Washington, D.C. Doctoral students from science and engineering disciplines meet and interact with congressional staffers, funding-agency officers, lobbyists, regulators, journalists, academics, museum curators and others.

Responsible Research and Innovation in Practice is a three-year project under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research program. It aims to understand the barriers and drivers to the successful implementation of responsible research and innovation; promote reflection on organizational structures and cultures of research-conducting and research-funding organizations; and identify and support best practices to facilitate the uptake of responsible research and innovation in organizations and programs. 

The Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation was created to accelerate the formation of a community of scholars and practitioners who, despite divides in geography and political culture, will create a common concept of responsible innovation for research, training and outreach — and in doing so contribute to the governance of emerging technologies. Virtual Institute for Responsible Innovation facilitates collaborative research, training and outreach activities among roughly two dozen institutions across the globe.

Global Resolve began in 2006 working to help provide clean water in a Ghanaian village. Today the program encompasses projects ranging from prosthetic limbs to improved crop production with partners in 13 countries in Asia, Africa and North and South America. Global Resolve offers students a unique opportunity to bridge the global divide with sustainable and collaborative solutions to help relieve the effects of poverty in the developing world.

The Engineering Projects in Community Service program, known as EPICS, is an award-winning national social entrepreneurship program where teams design, build and deploy systems to solve engineering-based problems for charities, schools and other not-for-profit organizations. Participating students represent a variety of disciplines within ASU. A common theme through all projects is that of sustainability — finding environmentally friendly solutions to community problems.