Podcaster kicks off Milstein Program ‘Future You’ speaker series

Yunyun Wang ‘21, Newman Civic Fellow, shared how she has created a podcast combining her interest in inequality issues with research into tech policy, as the kickoff speaker for the Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity’s “Future You Speaker Series” Sept. 23.

The “Future You Speaker Series” features current Cornell students and alumni who have launched projects and careers at the nexus of technology and the humanities. The next presentation in the series will feature Alex Marin Vidal ‘06, director of strategy & business intelligence at Activision Blizzard. Vidal’s presentation will take place virtually on Oct. 21 at 4:10 p.m.

Originally from the mountainous region of Southwest Virginia, Wang realized in middle school that she had a passion for conveying the importance of science and technology policy to a general audience. She first focused on the limited broadband access in her community, which presented challenges to many of her peers who came from more rural homes and farms that had little to no internet service.

After coming to Cornell, Wang took classes that explored technology ethics, law, and surveillance. She also conducted her own research, focusing on the ways that technology could be used to either offset or exacerbate certain societal inequalities.

To further explore these ethical questions, Wang joined a digital rights and internet think-tank, where she researched racial bias in AI, limited broadband access and antitrust issues in technology companies. She was particularly disturbed by under-developed facial recognition software used by many police departments to overwhelmingly convict people of color. She connected what she learned at the think-tank to knowledge gained from her mass incarceration government class, and realized that many of the issues currently facing the tech industry could be solved by looking to the humanities to help influence policy.

This led Wang to found “State of the Pod”, a podcast about the societal implications of science and technology. On the podcast, Wang and others have interviewed digital journalists, software engineers and professors on topics ranging from ethnobotany and the pharmaceutical industry, to racist search algorithms and e-cigarette ads aimed at a younger demographic.

Wang said the tech industry needs leaders with diverse educational backgrounds who serve not only their corporate stakeholders and their bottom lines, but also the best interest of the general public. When tech industry captains make decisions, such as large company mergers, without considering the implications for the public, consumers can face negative consequences that could have been avoided if a representative of the public was part of the decision-making process.

“If you want to pursue a career at the intersection of two fields...your entire surroundings are a real learning opportunity,” Wang said.

As a double major in government in the College of Arts & Sciences and information science, systems and technology in the College of Engineering, Wang is no stranger to taking two seemingly unrelated fields and weaving them into an all-inclusive learning opportunity. It was this willingness to learn, and innovative vision, that led Wang to be awarded a Newman Civic Fellowship for students with an affinity for social change and a drive for community engaged learning.

Launched in 2017, the Milstein Program offers a unique multidisciplinary curriculum to students in the College of Arts & Sciences, with workshops in design thinking, community engagement and technology topics, and two summers spent at Cornell Tech in New York City.

Aidan Kelly is the program assistant for the Milstein Program in Technology & Humanity.

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