UArizona Joins Top Institutions Teaching Technology for Public Good

In joining the Public Interest Technology University Network, the university will expand its research and teaching capacities to leverage advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technology in ways that serve the public interest.
Feb. 26, 2020
Catherine Brooks
Catherine Brooks

The University of Arizona has joined a network of institutions across the United States committed to teaching students how technology can be used in the public's best interest.

The Public Interest Technology University Network was established around a burgeoning field that the group's founders call "public interest technology" – using technological knowledge and expertise to promote the public good. The field involves a variety of disciplines, including engineering, design, computer science, information science, public policy, philosophy and law.

Known as PIT-UN, the network was formed in spring 2019 by New America, the Ford Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Its 21 original institutions include Arizona State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University and Harvard University, among others. The University of Arizona was one of 14 other American universities to join the network this week, bringing the total membership to 36.

As a member of the network, the university will continue to support faculty development, education and research related to public interest technology, and recognize faculty who are involved in those efforts. It will also provide experiential learning opportunities, such as clinics, fellowships and internships, and use institutional data to measure the how effective those efforts are.

Catherine Brooks, director of the UArizona School of Information in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, will serve as the university's PIT-UN designee.

"Our PIT-UN membership will provide additional momentum for the University of Arizona to embrace our strategic plan in new ways, harnessing the power of new opportunities such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum communications and mixed-reality tools, while always remaining focused on public interests," said Brooks, who is also an associate professor in the school. "I am just so pleased the University of Arizona is now a part of the network because it matters as we move forward with new developments and discoveries."

Among the university's planned initiatives in public interest technology is a 15-credit graduate certificate program in human rights and technology, focused on the intersection of those two fields. The proposal is being developed by the School of Information, in conjunction with the online graduate program in Human Rights Practice.

The university is already engaged in several projects related to public interest technology. Some of them include:

  • TechLaw, a James E. Rogers College of Law program designed to educate tech-savvy lawyers who can shape technology policy.
  • The Privacy Problem-Solving Project, a consulting clinic that helps nonprofits, universities and startup companies approach their collection of personal data in a way that serves their clients' interests and those of the public. The clinic includes graduate students studying law, engineering, information science and other areas.
  • The Eller College of Management's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which researches pertinent issues in the field of cyber security, such as power-grid security and hackers' use of forums to share stolen personal data.
  • The School of Information's Center for Digital Society and Data Studies, a research center focused on data privacy, information accessibility and inequity, art and science collaborations, and more.