Skip to content

Advancing Society Through Technology

Overview

Harnessing the power of science and technology to solve some of our toughest societal challenges

The current pace of scientific and technological advances is breathtaking:

  • The cost of sequencing the human genome has declined from $100 million to under $1,000. Today’s biologists can not only read DNA, but using technologies such as CRISPR/Cas9, they can write it as well.
  • Today’s video games are capable of 6 trillion calculations per second. This is six times the processing power of the state-of-the-art supercomputer in 1996.
  • Machine learning has made rapid progress in tasks such as image recognition, machine translation, self-driving cars, and beating the world’s Go champion.
  • Constellations of small satellites are taking a picture of the entire planet, updated every twenty-four hours.

However, these scientific and technological advances have not always led to meaningful progress on key societal challenges in education, health, economic and social mobility, and sustainability.

For example, advances in learning science and learning technology have not transformed the way teachers teach and students learn. The United States has more than doubled real per pupil K-12 expenditures, but improvements in student learning outcomes have been modest. Only 18 percent of low-income students are proficient in 8th grade math – a gateway course that is critical for success in college, career, and the skilling of the U.S. economy.

In healthcare, despite exciting advances in areas such as cancer immunotherapy and precision medicine, U.S. life expectancy is declining. Despite devoting a much larger fraction of GDP to healthcare than any other country, the U.S. is now 25th in life expectancy.

Making progress on societal problems can be even more challenging than in the private sector because market forces and competition don’t often directly reward organizations such as non-profits, schools, hospitals, and government agencies for embracing new technologies, or punish organizations that fail to do so.

Science and technology will never solve all of our societal challenges. But today, they are failing on many dimensions to meet their potential to directly improve people’s lives.

Approach

01

Liberate private data with a public purpose

There is a tremendous opportunity to use data collected by the private sector to solve societal challenges, and in doing so create the platforms needed to reach people at scale. Examples of data types include mobile, social media, e-commerce, remote sensing/satellite, and sensor data. Advances in data science and machine learning are increasing our capacity to use and interpret these data.

02

Bet on high-potential talent with new tech strategies for social good

The social sector lacks the capacity to recruit, retain and apply the best technical talent. A gap exists between the number of highly qualified young people who want to apply their skills to solve problems for humanity and the number of good opportunities, especially in tech, that exist to do that. We seek to fill that gap by betting on these high-potential people.

03

Increase capacity by promoting broad math proficiency by 8th grade

The 8th grade year plays a critical role as a “gatekeeper” for college and career. However, only 18 percent of low-income students are proficient in 8th grade math. Building on existing seed grants, Schmidt Futures is exploring multiple strategies to improve student performance, including (1) developing a “digital tutor” that models the interaction between an expert and a novice; and (2) using blended learning platforms to create an infrastructure for continuous improvement.

04

Increase the ambition of policy-makers and other philanthropists

Schmidt Futures is supporting efforts to foster a moonshot culture and promote a more robust science and technology policy at the federal, state and regional level.

Featured Investments

Data Collaboratives for Good

Schmidt Futures is supporting multiple data collaboratives that harness the flood of data being generated by the private sector to create public value. These collaboratives involve partnerships between companies, non-profits, university researchers, and government agencies to unlock the value of crucial data sets in areas such as addressing the global refugee crisis, improving medical care, and increasing agricultural productivity in developing countries.

Frugal Science

Stanford bioengineering professor Manu Prakash is passionate about “frugal science” – the development and widespread availability of low-cost, easy-to-use tools for scientific discovery. These tools could be used for citizen science, student research, and research in developing countries. His lab has already developed a $3 microscope capable of imaging bacteria, he and his collaborators are currently developing a $150 scanning electron microscope capable of imaging viruses!

Maker-Centered Learning

Maker Ed is developing a set of online resources to help teachers and other educators embrace maker-centered learning. New tools and approaches are allowing the next-generation to design and make just about anything, learning how to identify and solve problems in the process. Engagement with making and project-based learning supports students to excel in design and STEM and increase their creative confidence and collaborative skills.

  • Data Collaboratives for Good

  • Frugal Science

  • Maker-Centered Learning