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We activate researchers, practitioners, & communities to shape technology in the service of public needs.

Public Interest Tech is an emerging scholarly and professional field that is defined by the deployment of technological expertise in service of the common good, often with a focus on under-resourced communities and needs.

Since Cornell Tech’s founding in 2011, the societal and economic impacts of digital technology have only become more powerful, and with it, the growing desire among our most ambitious technical students, researchers, and working professionals to shape technology to serve public needs in areas such as consumer rights, criminal justice, education, public health, the environment, and trustworthy information ecosystems.

Our Vision

PiTech at Cornell Tech is activating a community of technologists, researchers, and practitioners dedicated to societal challenges that too frequently “fall between the cracks” of federal research funding and commercial investment.

We are doing so by creating educational and professional experiences for the next generation of innovators, leaders, and thinkers who will guide technology toward positive societal outcomes.

We are supported by a seed investment from The Atlantic Philanthropies, which recognized that Cornell Tech has the right mix to effect population-scale progress: our technical depth and builder mentality, our New York City home, and the breadth of our research endeavor.

 

 

Our Activities

We are building a community of impact-focused scholars and practitioners through PiTech Studio, Impact Fellowships, Values in Design, and K-12 initiatives. A strong diversity of perspectives and experiences is critically important to building effective PiTech, and we work to reflect this priority across each of our programs.

PiTech Studio

The PiTech Studio track is the latest addition to Cornell Tech’s unique Studio program in which Master’s students develop real-world tech with leading startups, established companies, and NYC organizations. Training public interest-minded technologists demands special attention, including opportunities to engage community leaders, public sector agencies, and non-profit funders. PiTech Studio focuses specifically on product development and business models to accelerate positive change in the public and non-profit sectors. 

PiTech Impact Fellowships

PiTech Fellowships support technical researchers seeking to contribute to the public interest. Fellows actively engage with communities around a particular public concern that is enabled or complicated by technology. Our vision is to host annual cohorts of doctoral fellows, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty sabbaticals to address specific societal needs; and to broadly foster the practice of public interest tech in the research community. Our inaugural summer program provides doctoral fellows with direct financial support as they embed within a community, NGO, foundation, or public sector organization. We welcome suggestions for partner organizations to host Impact Fellows.

Values in Design

Dynamic integration of legal, ethical, and policy frameworks is necessary for sustainable movement towards more socially responsible technology outcomes. For this, PiTech is leveraging the strengths of Cornell Tech’s influential Digital Life Initiative (DLI). The DLI community of scholars and policy portfolio is growing rapidly, as more leaders from industry and government look to DLI for guidance on issues of privacy, cybersecurity, blockchain, and AI ethics. PiTech and DLI’s partnership enables foundations in law and ethics to be put into practice and creates virtuous feedback across research, policy, and community impact.

K-12

All children should have access to the computer science content and computational thinking strategies they’ll need as digital citizens. In collaboration with Cornell Tech’s K-12 Initiative, PiTech seeks to promote equitable access to computing education in K-12 public schools.

Spotlight

Clinic to End Tech Abuse (CETA)

Our first Tech Clinic, launched fall 2019, addresses Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) in partnership with the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence. By pairing Cornell Tech’s expertise in human-computer interaction and security with engagement on the part of IPV victims and policymakers, Professors Nicki Dell and Tom Ristenpart developed the Clinic to End Tech Abuse (CETA), a first of its kind computer security clinic that helps IPV survivors navigate technology abuse. They are now scaling the clinic to serve the larger New York City metropolitan region and create a model that is replicable across the country.

ADL, Consumer Reports, Blue Ridge Labs, MakerLAB, and Coler logos, with corresponding headshots

Summer 2021 PhD Impact Fellows

Yiqing Hua (CS) & The Anti-Defamation League: Center on Extremism | Applying Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing to characterize how radical extremist content creators on online platforms such as YouTube use the platform to generate revenues.  

Ilan Mandel (IS) & Consumer Reports Digital Lab | Working with the Digital Lab to develop new ways to test the privacy and security of connected products, and strengthen consumer privacy and data rights.

Briana Vecchione (IS) & Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood | Embedding with Catalyst Incubator Teams, early stage social impact tech ventures addressing economic inequality, to help inform their product and service design.

Yiran Zhao (IS) & Maker Lab with NYC H+H: Coler Hospital | Actively engaging Coler Hospital residents in focus groups about the application and design of wearable devices for older adults and their caregivers.

2021 Pitech Studio Teams

The PiTech Studio course explores the roles that technology and design can play in the advancement of the public good. 

The 2021 PiTech Studio teams built:

dem.os | Platform built for accessible and consensus-driven public consultation, harnessing machine learning to derive quality insights

OnlyFood | Vendor management mobile app to optimize capacity planning for food pantry managers in urban cities

Paw Pals | A solution to connect older adults with people who have pets in hopes of reducing loneliness, fulfilling social needs, and creating lasting friendships 

Parvah | An on demand teletherapy platform for schools

R_DNA | Tool to help local news publishers market their publications better by synthesizing the information of value for potential funders, advertisers, and subscribers

SadPandasClub | A safe space to share difficult feelings anonymously online and find your tribe