Can technology help build peace? Experts gathered in Washington DC earlier this year for a summit by PeaceTech Lab (created by the United States Institute for Peace) to investigate how tech is being used, and can be developed, to advance peace.
“This conference, powering peace tech, is really meant to first celebrate the power of technology for helping to prevent conflict and save lives,” said PeaceTech Lab CEO Sheldon Himelfarb.
Leaders from tech giants such as Facebook and Google attended, as well as founders of online technology, to share their insights on the impact of technology in conflict regions and in the peacebuilding field.
Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vinton G. Cerf, known as the ‘father of the internet’ said that while the internet has turned out to be an "extraordinary and global phenomenon", not everyone online has everyone else’s "best interests at heart”. “So we’re seeing this essentially neutral platform being abused in the form of fake news, and other kinds of abuse that takes place, whether it’s fraud or bullying or all the other kinds of things that happen, distribution of malware, hacking - I mean, there’s long list here,” Cerf said.
Social media platforms, gaming, and online technology have also been blamed for causing or fueling violence but IBM veteran and chairman of PeaceTech Lab Nicholas Donofrio advised participants not to despair. “We can do it right, as we go forward,” Donofrio said. “I absolutely believe in us, collectively, and I believe it will be a much better future.”
According to their research, Facebook’s VP of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan said people’s well-being depends more on what people do online, rather than how much time they spend at a computer. “So, how you spend your time on Facebook is more important that exactly how much time you spend, so we’ve committed to trying to make the time spent on Facebook as positive for people and their health as possible.”
What tech is being used for peace, and how can individuals contribute?
Emerging initiatives were demonstrated at the conference, from gold-colored portals that connect citizens across the world, IT campaigns that battle hate speech online, to data being used as an early warning system.
“Individuals can really contribute by learning as much as possible,” said Creative Development Lab’s Giselle Lopez, “About the kind of work that is being done both in the peacebuilding space, and not just on a positive level but what are some of the challenges that peacebuilding organizations have that potentially technology can play a role in helping to address.”