Introducing C-PET

Who we are

The Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies is a non-partisan Washington, DC think tank focused on the policy and broader social impacts of emerging technologies. Our global network of fellows, advisers, researchers and other collaborators spans many disciplines and perspectives. The one issue where we all agree: The implications of emerging technologies for the 21st century and the human future are much greater and more pervasive than the policy community is prepared to acknowledge. That was true when we were founded in 2007, and it remains true today.


Our Principles

As we seek to identify, clarify, and prioritize Tomorrow’s Questions, we embrace the following working principles:

1.   Concurrent engineering of ideas: The knowledge network must span disciplines and interconnect traditional silos of expertise.

2.   Engagement of a full range of opinion: All articulate views must be round the table all the time; outlier positions are especially important to counter groupthink and ensure an open-textured context for creativity in the knowledge network in the face of very rapid and in some measure unpredictable change.

3.   A medium-to-long-term perspective: A 10-year time horizon is crucial as the context for current decisions.

4.   Core role for values: Values shape both policy and markets, so they are key to innovation and the embrace of change and the future.

5.   Global perspective: Context for every issue must be global; the United States should seek to be both lead global competitor, and lead global citizen.

Positive sum outcome: We respects differences and focus on clarifying key issues, areas of consensus and areas for further discussion.


Our Background

A Knowledge Network Asking Tomorrow’s Questions

The opening years of the 21st century have already been marked by developments in technology that would have been hard to comprehend just a decade earlier. For many people, Facebook and other social media have changed their lives. The main focus has been on digital advances enabled by the internet. Yet parallel developments in biology, artificial intelligence/robotics, nanotechnology, virtual reality, and other fields have been equally revolutionary if less evident. And these technologies are “converging,” powered by the exponential advances in computing power symbolized by Moore’s Law, breaking down the barriers between traditional disciplines as our knowledge vastly expands and our capacity to control nature increases. Together with growing benefits for human health and well-being come threats to security – and more subtle threats to our values. While those who are most optimistic about the speed of technological change may be mistaken, no-one doubts it is moving faster every year.


How We Respond

The United States has long dominated the global technology agenda and served as the spearhead to innovation of all kinds, though some would claim that the U.S. may soon cease to be the global technology epicenter. At the same time, the single most troubling feature of the political culture of Washington, DC is the absence of serious engagement with the long term at the top of the federal policy agenda.

C-PET seeks to address this complex situation. Most think tanks take clear positions on issues of controversy, or have a clear ideological/partisan orientation, or some combination of the two. We put as much effort into how we think as what we think. We are a knowledge network, drawing together thinkers with wide interests and deep expertise from across the silos within which so much thinking still takes place. And while most “think tanks” focus on answers, we ask questions; indeed, our chief focus is on clarifying what the big questions are – “tomorrow’s questions.” It is as we identify, clarify and prioritize the “big questions” raised in future perspective (our rule-of-thumb is a 10-year time horizon) that we cultivate a context within which solutions can be developed. By determining to be nonpartisan and non-ideological we are not stating that we have no view. We are rather affirming our commitment to the long term, to the framing of questions as the context for answers, and to the participation of thinkers of diverse views in the conversation.

There are several reasons why we are focused on Tomorrow’s Questions. For one thing, the pace of change, which is quickening, lies beyond the grasp of most decision-makers. Think tanks like other policy networks typically operate on the assumptions of a static order of things. At C-PET we know we operate in a flux in which the extraordinary changes of the past decade are mere prologue to the shifts that lie ahead of us. Secondly, America’s political traditions – both of the two main parties and the various strands within them – bear little correlation with the emerging issues that will shape the politics of tomorrow. As individuals the many members of C-PET’s network may have strong views on the deficit and foreign policy and welfare and the appropriate level of regulation for markets; but we acknowledge that a sea-change is taking place in which the salience of these and all other key issues is subject to a fundamental paradigm shift caused by technology impacts, intended or not. Third, the explosion of knowledge is leading us into a situation in which “expertise,” while crucial, will no longer play the part it has in the past in shaping choices. Wisdom to make decisions will come from inter-disciplinary engagement in which networked relationships between experts shape a capacity to assess the fountain of facts and determine what matters; in which intuition and the ability to select from overwhelming quantities of data across many fields will determine understanding. So a knowledge network spanning disciplines, in which leading thinkers are teamed together, offers the context for the defining and, ultimately, resolution of the great issues that confront our generation.