Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology, with federal agencies and domestic and international stakeholders, announces the launch of a new initiative: a series of International Grand Challenges on Democracy-Affirming Technologies. Part of President Biden’s Summit for Democracy, the initiative aims to galvanize worldwide innovation of a new class of technologies that offer the opportunity and potential to be used in ways that support democratic values asymmetrically.
 
The Grand Challenges will bring together innovators, investors, researchers, and entrepreneurs from across governments and societies toward the goal of advancing technologies with democratic values embedded at every stage of development and use.

The prize challenges will kick off in the coming months and run over the Summit for Democracy’s year of action. A subset of the winners of these competitions will be able to share their innovations with the broader community of democratic stakeholders at a second Summit for Democracy.
 
“We can and should harness innovation to advance technologies that have the potential to further our shared democratic values, including privacy, freedom of expression, access to information, transparency, fairness, inclusion, and equity,” said Dr. Eric Lander, the President’s Science Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “It’s not a guarantee that any given technology will support democratic values. It takes constant vigilance, and constant commitment; we, the people, have to make sure that technology is developed responsibly and used responsibly. That is our solemn obligation.”
 
The Challenges include:

  • US-UK Prize Challenges on Privacy-Enhancing Technologies (NSF, NIST, UK) 

    The United States, through the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the United Kingdom will collaborate on bilateral innovation prize challenges focused on advancing privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs). PETs present a technological opportunity to harness the power of data in a secure manner that protects privacy and intellectual property, enabling cross-border and cross-sector collaboration to solve shared challenges. PETs are already being used to enable the use of data to drive solutions in ways that preserve privacy, thereby tackling a range of societal challenges, from financial crime to Covid-19. The bilateral prize challenges will strive to mature PETs and accelerate their adoption for a range of practical use cases. Building on decades of investment in PETs, NSF and NIST are leading the interagency initiative to jointly develop the challenges with a team of specialists from across the UK government led by the UK Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.
     
  • Censorship Circumvention and Peer-to-Peer Challenges (Open Technology Fund) 

    The Open Technology Fund will support Challenge initiatives to accelerate the development of innovative “democracy-affirming technologies” to counter online censorship globally, including a Grand Challenge on Combating Internet Shutdowns with Peer-to-Peer Technology. To mitigate the impacts of Internet shutdowns, the development of unique peer-to-peer (P2P) technologies can enable content-sharing and communication without an Internet or cellular connection. Such technologies, including peer-to-peer communication tools, peer-to-peer content-sharing platforms, and shutdown-resistant platforms, can help users safely share applications and software without an Internet connection. In order to accelerate the development and deployment of shutdown solutions, OTF will invite international participants to compete on promising P2P technologies to counter Internet shutdowns globally and include an international review committee.
     
  • Tech4Democracy Global Entrepreneurship Challenge (U.S. Embassy Madrid & IE University)

    With the aim of helping democracies become more responsive and resilient through the Summit for Democracy and year of action, IE University, in partnership with U.S. Embassy Madrid, will launch the Tech4Democracy Global Entrepreneurship Challenge to identify entrepreneurs that build and advance “democracy-affirming technologies” through a set of regional startup and scaleup competitions in countries spanning the democratic world. These “venture day” competitions will bring together researchers, innovators, investors, and entrepreneurs to identify and highlight key innovations as well as to give shape to the global effort to develop technology for democracy. Specific areas of innovation may include: data for policymaking, responsible AI and machine learning, fighting misinformation, and advancing government transparency and accessibility of government data and services.

In the face of asymmetries in the way democratic and autocratic actors leverage and derive value from emerging technologies, these Grand Challenges seek to help ensure that democratic values remain competitive and democracies continue to lead the technologies of the future.

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