How much can we learn about a stranger from a single strand of their hair? Through her work, artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg tries to ask deep questions about technology and how it functions and impacts society. She’s interested in genetic surveillance, and the issues it raises around the vulnerability and shortcomings inherent in something like DNA phenotyping, or the attempt to create a picture of a person’s face using their DNA.

For one of her exhibitions, Dewey-Hagborg collected hair, chewed-up gum, fingernails, and other genetic artifacts from public places and extracted DNA, which she used to create subjective 3D-printed portraits of strangers. It’s part of her exploration into the future of genetic surveillance and how the biotechnological universe is growing around us all the time. Dewey-Hagborg says we need to make the hidden world of biotechnology more visible to people and help ensure genetic privacy. “We don’t see all the biotechnology that’s happening behind the scenes,” she says. “It’s totally invisible to us.”

Heather Dewey-Hagborg is part of a larger community that wants to see technology serve the greater welfare of society. We call this Public Interest Tech.


Other videos in this series

03:28
Danny Weitzner, a white bald man, wears a gray suit and multicolored bowtie. The phrase "Technologist Redefined" appears to the right.

Danny Weitzner – Privacy and policy: a new school of thought. Public Interest Tech

Privacy is fundamental to our lives. Unanswered public policy questions raised by new technologies need to be addressed. Danny Weitzner, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says as a society, we have to be directly engaged in these public interest technology questions to ensure new tools support human values.

03:12
Susan Crawford is a white woman wearing a black cardigan over a white collared shirt. The phrase "The Internet: Public or Private?" appears to the left.

Susan Crawford – The internet: public or private? Public Interest Tech

Internet access is an indispensable factor when it comes to opportunities and resources needed for economic mobility. Public interest technologist Susan Crawford says government regulation is necessary to ensure provider incentives align with the public’s best interest and help create a better future for all.

03:35
Michelle Miller is a white woman wearing a black dress. The phrase "United: Workers' Rights" appears to the left.

Michelle Miller – A new age of advocacy. Public Interest Tech

Workers can use tools of the internet to push for better working conditions and outcomes, building a future of work that works for all. Michelle Miller, co-founder of coworker.org, focusses on building digital communities that put the power of numbers in the hands of the workforce.

03:42
Kade Crockford is a white gender-nonconforming person wearing business clothing. The phrase "Black box algorithms?" appears to the left.

Kade Crockford – Can computers discriminate? Spoiler alert: yes. Public Interest Tech

The age of automated decision making, through algorithms, can exacerbate inequalities in society. The ACLU’s Kate Crockford believes we need to bring technologists into the public interest fold to address this worrying issue. Lawyers like Crockford play an important part in ensuring digital technologies work for the benefit of all.

04:09
Joy Buolamwini is a Black person wearing a bright pink blazer and matching glasses. Joy holds a faceless white mask to her face. The phrase "Can you see me now?" appears to the left.

Joy Buolamwini – Fighting the “coded gaze:” How we make artificial intelligence benefit all. Public Interest Tech

The automation of how computers detect, classify, and identify faces can favor some races and genders over others and also deepen existing inequalities. Public interest technologist Joy Buolamwini is building tools to help researchers code in a more inclusive way.

03:02
Sarita Gupta is a South Asian woman, wearing a mustard-yellow top and black pants. The phrase "Public Interest Tech + Workers Rights = Power to the People" appears to the left.

Sarita Gupta – The future of work(ers) rights! Public Interest Tech

Technology can help build a future of work that works for all. Sarita Gupta from Jobs with Justice explains how we can use technology to improve workers’ lives. Public interest technologists and social change leaders need to come together to design systems and tools that benefit all.

02:45
Bruce Schneier, a white-bearded man, wears a flat cap and gray blazer over a floral shirt. The phrase "Group Benefits? Individual Security?" appears above and below him.

Bruce Schneier – How to survive in a hyperconnected world. Public Interest Tech

Cybersecurity expert Bruce Schneier says we need to find innovative ways to use surveillance data for the public good, while still maintaining our individual security. Tech decisions have policy ramifications, and policy decisions have tech ramifications—bridging the two worlds benefits everyone.

02:44
Carmen Aguilar Y Wedge, a Latinx woman with short curly hair, is wearing a white t-shirt with a solid blue box on the front. Ashley Baccus-Clark, a Black woman with locs wearing a jean jacket. Ece Tankal, a Turkish woman with long wavy hair, is wearing a short sleeve white button-down shirt. The phrase "The future is ours to create" appears below them.

Hyphen-Labs – What does the future look like? Public Interest Tech

Technology can help us envision new ways of living. Artists can show us just what technology is capable of doing. But for tech to be truly inclusive, everyone needs to have a say in how it’s created. Artist collective Hyphen-Labs encourages experimenting with how we see the world.

04:06
Stephanie Dinkins is a Black woman with black shoulder-length locs and wearing a white top. She's staring at a robotic torso of a black woman with shoulder-length brown hair. The word phrases "Who coded this thing?" and "Where is the data coming from?" appears in thought bubbles between them.

Stephanie Dinkins – Conversations with a robot. Public Interest Tech

There is implicit bias in artificial intelligence (AI). Artist Stephanie Dinkins wants data scientists and technologists to think about the ethical implications of AI and how better systems can be built for the future. Her work questions what machines are doing and why, so they can be more equitable and fair.

02:36
Éirann Leverett, a white man with gray and white hair, black-framed glasses, and a white gingham shirt with the sleeves rolled up. The phrase "Internet = Public Utility" appears to the right.

Éirann Leverett – Calling all hackers for good. Public Interest Tech

The internet is a shared safe space and should remain so. Éirann Leverett believes hacking can be used for public good. He maintains the issue of privacy and security should be seen as a consumer rights issue, and the internet should be treated as a public utility.

02:45
A medley of diverse tech fellows and tech inequality experts from all over the world. The phrase "Public Interest Tech" appears between them.

What is Public Interest Tech?

As it rapidly grows and changes our lives, technology can deepen existing inequalities in our world. For it to make a positive difference, public interest technologists work to ensure new and existing tech helps dismantle inequality and benefit the social good.

01:39
Berhan Taye Gemeda, A Black woman with short hair and glasses, wearing silver hoop earrings and a sleeveless denim dress. The phrase "Access to Information is a Right" appears to the right.

Berhan Taye Gemeda – Uncensored. Public Interest Tech

Censorship and online surveillance decrease opportunities for civic engagement. Social justice activist Berhan Taye Gemeda says access to the internet is a right, and she believes the internet should be governed by the public because it was created for the public. Accessible internet is essential for social change.

02:07
Suchana Seth is an Indian woman with long dark brown hair wearing a light gray patterned top with rolled sleeves. The phrase "Can computers be racist?" appears to her right.

Suchana Seth – Tech’s implicit bias problem. Public Interest Tech

There is implicit bias in tech that leads to prediction errors and deepens existing inequalities. Data scientist Suchana Seth believes we need to develop standards against algorithmic bias so that we can harness the power of tech for social good.

01:47
Steffania Paola Costa di Albanez is a Latina woman with curly hair wearing a pink dress with purple accents and big circular earrings. The word "Represent!" appears below her.

Steffania Paola Costa di Albanez – Who gets to make technology? Public Interest Tech

In the fight for equality, the way technology is developed should be a key issue. Open Web Fellow Steffania Paola Costa di Albanez says developers should reflect the diversity of those who use technology and represent a wide variety of user experiences, from women to Black women.

02:19
Sid Rao is a bearded Indian man with a handlebar mustache, wearing a black t-shirt. A blue mask, cape, and chest emblem with the words "Digital Privacy" on it are drawn onto his picture. The phrase "Security Superhero" appears below him.

Sid Rao – My digital superpower. Public Interest Tech

Internet users don’t know how their metadata is being used or exploited for monetary or tracking purposes. Open Web Fellow Sid Rao aims to give people the tools to protect their digital privacy by knowing how their internet activities are being monitored.

01:09
A medley of diverse tech fellows and tech inequality experts from all over the world. The phrase "Public Interest Tech" appears between them.

Meet the future of tech. For good. Public Interest Tech

Public interest technologists show us how tech can work for social good and help fight inequality. They work to bridge the gap between what technologies are trying to build and what social scientists are trying to solve.

02:25
Matt Mitchell is a Black man wearing a black T-shirt, a black chain necklace, and a black baseball hat with a gold brim. The phrase "Hacker redefined" appears below him.

Matt Mitchell – I’m a hacker. For good. Public Interest Tech

Organizations need to be proactive in protecting themselves from digital threats. Hacker Matt Mitchell says it’s not a matter of if you will be hacked as an organization, it’s a matter of when. Having an understanding of these digital threats and planning before problems occur is vital.

00:00
Jennifer Helsby, a white woman with short brown hair, is wearing a purple shirt and dark gray cardigan. The phrase "Digital security = good for democracy" appears above and below her.

Jennifer Helsby – Digital security = good for democracy. Public Interest Tech

Having a free and open internet allows every person to read and speak freely online. Open Web Fellow Jennifer Helsby works to uphold freedom of the press and digital security, which are essential for journalists to maintain democracy.

01:37
Etienne Maynier, a white man with half-long hair and glasses wearing a purple shirt and gray jeans. The phrase "Everything we do is recorded" appears above and below him.

Etienne Maynier – Are these 5 tools in your organization’s digital security toolbox? Public Interest Tech

Fighting for a society that’s more equal means upholding the individual right to privacy. Etienne Maynier explains that digital surveillance is a pressing threat that feeds inequality. Protecting ourselves and our information is an important part of using technology to create a better society for all.