Rhodri Davies, Programme Leader, Giving Thought

Rhodri Davies

Head of Policy

Charities Aid Foundation

The role of giving


5 January 2017

The huge consumer tech expo CES 2017 is currently taking place in Las Vegas.

This has prompted the usual annual raft of articles identifying the main tech trends that can be discerned for the year ahead. (eg this one from Forbes, or this one from the FT).

Through Giving Thought here at CAF, we have been trying to think through some of the implications of various tech developments for philanthropy and the work of charities for the last few years. It was gratifying, therefore, to see that a number of the key trends identified for 2017 are things that we have explored before. (It does at least suggest that our judgment about these things isn’t wildly off!)

Here are four of the key tech trends for 2017 identified by the experts, and what we have had to say about their possible impact on philanthropy.


Perhaps not as big a part of CES 2017 as some other trends, because it is more of an infrastructure technology, but still a given on most expert’s lists of major tech trends for this year. It is also the technology that we have done the most work on, having written three papers, produced a number of blogs, recorded explanatory videos and given talks at conferences.

You can find all our reports together with some short videos of me explaining the key ideas on blockchain.

You can also read the relevant blog posts, about:

There are also some earlier posts about the related issue of cryptocurrency:

If you want to watch the video of a talk I gave at the inaugural Together We’re Better conference in 2016 on blockchain, the slides I used for the talk are available on Prezi.


This is definitely a big one for CES 2017: every object there seems to be smart in some way, up to an including a toothbrush. We explored some of the possibilities that IoT technology brings for philanthropy in our “Giving Unchained” report, and also in a blog post about philanthropy, blockchain and the Internet of Things.

We also produced a slightly tongue-in-cheek infographic about how a  philanthropic smart washing machine might work.

And we even mocked up some instructions too!

washing machine philanthropy blockchain

3 AI

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is obviously strongly linked to the IoT. But there are wider applications of AI, including things like the growing prevalence of algorithms and the rise of chatbots. We have touched on this issue in various places, and examined in one particular blog the question of whether a Google-style deep learning algorithm could be developed for philanthropy.


Another biggie for 2017. After doing a bit of work on this topic last year, I actually got a home VR headset to use with my smartphone this Christmas (like many other people). My initial sense is that the technology is incredible for the price, but that it is clearly in its infancy. However, the reports from CES 2017 suggest that far more realistic AR/VR is just around the corner, and also that the integration of AR and VR into search technology is going to be a big trend to watch. We have explored the opportunities and challenges that AR/VR might bring for charities and philanthropy, and also the specific queston of whether they might exacerbate the ‘filter bubble’ effect and hence lead to further social isolation and division.

That is a snapshot of some of our thinking to date. The impact of technology on philanthropy and the work of charities is one of the key areas of focus of our Giving Thought think tank, so we will continue to explore these technologies as well as others over the coming months and years. If you are interested then watch this space, or get in touch!