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NYU launches alliance to promote discussions about biometrics and other Public Interest Technologies



New York University (NYU) has launched the Alliance for Public Interest Technology (PIT), which it describes as “a group dedicated to promoting research and discussion regarding public interest technologies that are developed and employed by public institutions,” including facial recognition and other biometric technologies and computing systems, as well as technologies that impact bio-ethics, privacy, and other societal and individual rights issues.

In January, NYU began its PIT kick-off with presentations and panel discussions on “Tech and Policing;” “Making Data Great Again;” “AI, Datafication, and Human Rights;” “What Technologists Need to Know About Bias;” “Technology, Workers, and Activism;” and “Holding AI Accountable through Investigative Journalism.”

“Technology has had a pretty good decade. The Internet went mobile. So did we,” NYU’s Alliance for Public Interest Technology fellow Mona Sloane said. But, she emphasized, “These developments have coincided with large-scale social, political, and ecological developments on a global scale. Technology, it seems, has moved to the nexus of all of these things – for better, but also for worse.”

“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,” explained Vice Provost for Faculty Engagement and Development and the alliance’s co-chair, Charlton McIlwain. He added: “How do we go about trying to amplify the research and work of our faculty that are doing this kind of technology work? How do we make them more visible both within the university and outside the university?”

“As the global center for research and thought leadership on the responsible and ethical creation, use and governance of technology in society, we leverage our multidisciplinary faculty, research, resources, and professional and community networks to collaborate with, and engage the university community, public institutions, public interest organizations, and community-based organizations, to significantly impact the world’s current and future technology landscape,” according to the group’s mission statement.

The alliance has partnered with the Public Interest Technology Universities Network (PIT-UN) that was founded last year to encourage collaboration between dozens of universities and colleges “committed to building the field of PIT and growing a new generation of civic-minded technologists.”

Already part of the network is Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, Pardee Rand Graduate School, the University of Virginia, the City University of New York, Georgetown University, Princeton University, Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and others working on the development of PIT curricula, programs, and projects designed to educate government employees and civil workers about emerging technologies and data science.

“This alliance will harness and channel the university’s talent and resources to advance public interest technology while also giving young scholars and students the grounding to navigate the intersection of technology and policy,” McIlwain said, adding that. “Its creation will only enhance NYU’s focus on socially conscious research and the application of technology for the greater good, committing our faculty and students to be leaders in the critical, responsible, and ethical creation, use, and governance of technology in society.”

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