Technologies like generative AI, augmented reality, robotics, and quantum computing hold tremendous promise for addressing major societal challenges and unlocking unimagined opportunities. From leveling the playing field in education, to reducing violence, to realizing breakthroughs in patient care, these new technologies offer transformative power.
At the same time, these same technologies introduce stark new risks and raise thorny policy questions. For instance, how should society govern these emerging technologies in service of the greater public good? And, whose responsibility should it be: government? big tech? a combination? or some alternative entity?
To help address these intertwined issues and opportunities, the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy is introducing the Harris Technology and Society Initiative, a two-pronged strategy to:
- Leverage evidence and analysis to inform technology governance: Harris is exploring several pressing questions concerning governance issues related to generative AI. A working group of academics from Harris, the University of Chicago, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business – along with leaders from civil society and major tech companies – are working to produce recommendations for managing the impact of generative AI on the 2024 US elections and beyond. Working groups on other critical AI and broader technology governance issues are being formed. Their efforts will ultimately shed light on myriad concerns that could be alleviated by effective governance, including political polarization, misinformation, privacy, market concentration, free expression, property rights, market stability, and many more.
- Harness technology to address societal challenges: Harris research centers and scholars are studying how tech can be leveraged to help solve some of society’s most difficult challenges in areas such as campaigns and elections, the labor market, health care, education, property rights, public safety, housing, national security, and climate, among others. As policymakers grapple with emerging technologies, HTSI intends not only to catalyze but also shine a spotlight on the contributions made by Harris scholars and the broader University of Chicago, ensuring serious academic research plays a central role in shaping effective policy and unlocking these technologies’ potential for bettering societal outcomes and people’s lives.
Some of the scholarly work that the Harris Tech and Society Initiative plans to highlight includes: a team of health policy scholars exploring AI solutions to streamline medical billing, the utilization of technology to monitor population movement during conflict, an effort that started with a project during the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021, the exploration of trends in educational technology with a particular interest in how technology can help parents support young children's development of math and reading skills, and the use of augmented or visual reality training programs to improve police decision-making and public safety.
Additionally, the Initiative recently released a public opinion poll, conducted in partnership with AP-NORC, which revealed bipartisan concern about the use of AI in the 2024 election. A majority of Americans further believe that AI will increase the spread of misinformation about the election.
"Innovations in technology have the potential to help society address some of its most fundamental challenges, but also raise harrowing considerations for how they should be governed and regulated," said Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, interim dean and Sydney Stein Professor at Harris Public Policy. "Harris is well-positioned to be a leader in this effort. Harnessing this opportunity for transformative social impact requires vision, rigor, and an interdisciplinary effort that brings together genuine expertise in frontier technologies and the deep understanding of social science and policy that lies at the core of Harris’ academic and research mission."
As part of the initiative, Harris is prioritizing greater integration of technology policy into its curriculum, student experience, and career development programs. The school is expanding tech policy coursework for its graduate students, building upon courses such as Artificial Intelligence for Public Policy; Technology, Ethics, and Politics, and Big Data and Development. The Congressional Modernization Fellowship provides real-world opportunities for Harris students to apply technology skills to advance the effectiveness of the US Congress. Plans are also in place to create a dedicated program to place Harris master's candidates at tech company policy shops as summer interns.
"Society will miss opportunities to make the impact this moment calls for if policymaking is made in a vacuum, uninformed by rigorous scholarly analysis and all that Universities have to offer," added Bueno de Mesquita. “My hope and expectation is that this effort spurs new academic research; fresh discourse and collaboration among a diverse set of academics, policymakers, and business leaders; and exciting new educational and career opportunities for the next generation of policy leaders.”
Harris is planning a major convening for Spring 2024 to bring together scholars, students, philanthropists, and interested members of the public to engage with innovative research on tech solutions for social impact across a wide-ranging set of policy challenges.
Learn more about the Harris Technology and Society Initiative.
Join a hybrid event discussing generative AI and democracy with researchers from Stanford University and the University of Chicago.
This story was adapted from the Harris School website.