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KGI: an Information Future for the Common Good

Over the past few years, Georgetown faculty have greatly enlarged their activities studying the impact of technological change on the country. Some of this work, performed by the Center on Privacy and Technology, has illuminated potential biases in facial recognition algorithms because of restricted training data in the machine learning. Others, at the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, have built networks of state and local government technical staff to improve the accessibility of benefits delivery or assembly of evidence for policy-making. The Massive Data Institute, with its Federal Statistical Research Data Center, has supported faculty and students access government data within a heavily secure computing environment. Ethics Lab has led design groups in tackling practical ethical issues including clinical trials during pregnancy. The Center for Security and Emerging Technologies has assembled unique international data that provide ongoing insights into R&D activities in artificial intelligence, producing scores of white papers that directly affect policy decision-makers. The Institute for Technology Law and Policy has successfully assisted many federal government units and built out the state Attorney General Technology Education Network to create a knowledge community assisting regulatory initiatives at the state level. Just recently, the Center for Digital Ethics was launched to add to the resources of the Tech and Society network. All of the units are staffed by research entrepreneurs, funding their work through external grants and gifts. Educational programs connected to the network assure an integration of education and research.

These activities rest on an unusually strong base of talent, with a breadth of expertise that includes legal studies, computer science, philosophy, social sciences, and data science.

Recently, the group became an attractive home for a new, related activity. We announced yesterday a new unit – the Knight-Georgetown Institute (KGI), which will focus on the effects of technology on the information environment in which we live.

The mission of the Knight Foundation and the mission of Georgetown seemed closely aligned. The Foundation is built on the belief that a well-informed community can best determine its own true interests and is essential to a well-functioning, representative democracy. Georgetown seeks to tackle important problems in service to the common good, with special emphasis on underserved communities.

Knight over the past few years has invested nearly $100 million in a large set of university-based and nonprofit units that are now examining all aspects of the growing role of digital media in the democracy. The new institute, based on an initial $30 million investment, will serve as a nonpartisan convening hub for the Knight Research Network throughout the country, as a catalyst to increased impact. It will mount active translation of scholarly research into widely accessible language for decision-makers in the private, government, and nonprofit sectors. It will build an academic field that mixes together the social science, legal studies, data science, practical ethics, and computer science. This last activity could develop curricula that could be shared across many universities.

The new KGI will be co-located with other units of the Georgetown Tech & Society Initiative, at 500 First Street NW, on Georgetown’s Capitol Campus. In the coming months, a staff will be built and activities begun. It is hoped that many of the activities will be joint with those of other units in Tech and Society, taking advantage of the existing talent at Georgetown but adding new investment and a focus on digital information.

It takes a village to conceptualize such an enterprise. All of us at Georgetown should convey our appreciation for the work of Paul Ohm, Laura DeNardis, Leticia Bode, Soyica Colbert, Alyscia Eisen, Irina Netessina, Emily Tavoulareas and our colleagues in the General Counsel’s office, the Office of Advancement, and the Office of the CFO.

This new institute is yet another resource for Georgetown to aid society in coping with the pace of technological change.

4 thoughts on “KGI: an Information Future for the Common Good

  1. Ps I hope they involve Prof Diana Owen CCT in these efforts with her expertise on data in civics , politics , fake news and media etc. Just a thought !

  2. Great news. Georgetown is certainly the leader in these matters of data use ACROSS many disciplines.” Future preference” of Dr Quigley, Hoyas are THE leader in this area. Well done sir !

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