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Taylor Downs

Nationality: American
Living in: Abdijan, Côte d'Ivoire
Twitter: @taylordowns2000
Medium.com: @taylordowns2000

Founder & Core Contributor, Open Function


Taylor is the founder of Open Function, an integration-platform-as-a-service company that serves to make the critical technologies employed by international development projects easier to automate and combine. He received the first annual Harvard SECON Social Impact Award and the 2017 Pizzigati Prize for Software Development in the Public Interest. He was named to Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list, is a 2012 Echoing Green Fellow, a 2014 Rainer Arnhold Fellow, and a 2015 PopTech Social Innovation Fellow.

Previously, Taylor co-founded and served as CEO of Vera Solutions. From offices in Boston, Washington DC, Cape Town, Mumbai, and Geneva, Vera has now served more than 250 impact-first organisations and employs 50 technology-for-development consultants around the world.

Before Vera, he lived in Southern Africa while working for Grassroot Soccer (a public-health implementer focused on the HIV epidemic) and consulted on intervention design and training NGOs in the region. He holds a BA in Religious Studies with a focus on Tibetan Buddhism from Amherst College.


Personal Statement

I applied to the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity programme because I feel that my current perspective (and potential impact) is limited without a formal academic introduction to economics and inequality. While I do think that the perspective I bring to policy conversations is important - and I hope that these conversations are always grounded in practical, implementable solutions that hold up in the field - I worry that it’s less useful without a background in theory.

My professional background is in technology, my first job was in the field of HIV prevention, my undergraduate studies focused on Tibetan Buddhism and I am, above all else, excited about the highly-multidisciplinary approach that the fellowship offers.

One area of inequality in which I’m particularly interested is how it is influenced by technology, specifically automation and artificial intelligence. Advances in technology have, historically, reduced labour’s bargaining power as capital owners relied less and less on workers to produce goods and services. General AI may be a long way off, but privately-owned IP is already reducing the demand for certain types of labour at an alarming rate.

A few years ago, a New York Times opinion piece by Paul Krugman on the subject of automation sparked an interesting public conversation. A blogger for the Economist, relying heavily on Tyler Cowen’s response, eventually wrote that a “society of adequately shared prosperity not based on constant, disruptive, inefficient redistributive intervention will need to be based on universal ownership of claims to the output of robots.” This has stuck with me and I think it is possible to envision a future with very different concepts of capital ownership. We are breaking new ground when it comes to intellectual property and artificial intelligence. I want to explore that space, the legal and ethical ramifications of various positions, and the role of governance and democracy in a fast accelerating technological landscape.

Another area of inequality that interests me is the effect that mobile devices and incessant advertising have on the brain - particularly on stress and loneliness. While the wealthy may have the ability to engage in more expensive ad-free and even technology-free activities, this is not a realistic option for many people.