Whether it is to support growing economies or to help us in our daily lives, advanced technology is now the foundation for many of our societies. Many argue that technology can bring us together and be a source of peace amidst chaotic times, but like anything else, its power also has the potential to perpetuate and create conflict. What does this all mean in a world where social media, artificial intelligence, bitcoin, virtual reality and 3D printing are all rising in prominence? It is important for us to analyse how technology has already been used for peace, how it has or can backfire, and how close it can bring us to a peaceful future.
First, it is important to acknowledge that peace is ultimately about equality. What many conflicts in the world boil down to is one person, group, or organisation that believes they are superior, or that another is inferior, often because of their belief in untrue stereotypes and prejudices. It is about equality because, without our need for power and control, which stems from hierarchies and inequalities, there is no reason to fight. If we all saw each other as equals who wanted the same things out of life, like safety and happiness, we would realise our true humanity and understand how debilitating conflict is to our definition of what makes us human. We pride ourselves on being a humane, kind, compassionate and moral race. Yet we are the most murderous animal on the planet, killing both our own species and many others, at alarming rates. Thus, is it possible that artificial intelligence will possess these “human” traits to a greater extent than actual humans do? Or at least that they can help us recognize the importance of equality to help foster peace among humanity?
As we have grown as a civilization into organized states and institutions, the rate of violence within the human race has dropped significantly. This is possibly due to advancements in technology that have made our lives easier, creating a more equal world where humanity is connected on an incredible scale via the internet. One example of this is social media, which offers a unique platform that allows people from all across the globe to interact, share their experiences and voice their opinions. Because it can break down barriers of time and distance, space has the potential to foster positive movements across many societies, where even the use of a simple emoji can carry powerful messages of peace that have the potential to unite us. However, it also has the potential to be used for unjust or violent practices. For example, Facebook has been used as a market for the illegal trade of endangered and protected species, bloggers have been killed and tortured for expressing their opinions online, and ISIS has successfully marketed itself and recruited members from around the world using social media sites and applications. It is thus clear that this form of technology currently has no clear direction toward or away from peace, which is possibly due to it primarily being utilized for business and marketing purposes. If these technologies instead focused purely on creating equality through understanding and connection, they would begin to have the power to become peace building tools.
Technology has surpassed the point now where it simply makes our lives easier, as it can now shape how we think, and even teach us how to be more peaceful. Timo Honkela is one scientist who believes technology can fuel peace, specifically artificial intelligence technologies. In his keynote speech at April’s National Dialogue conference in Helsinki, Honkela stated that “Artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used for something positive within a longer timescale. It becomes realistic, even now. It’s not foolish, and it has ground.” He is working on a ‘peace machine’ that he believes could reduce conflict in the future by making communication easier, which would increase the ability of humans to cooperate. Honkela says, “For example, machine translation is becoming better all the time. Five years ago it was laughable most of the time, but now translations between Indo-European languages are reasonable in many cases. It’ll significantly increase possibilities for human collaboration and communication over the next 10 years.” Jorg Tiedemann, a professor of language technology at the University of Helsinki, agrees that language is essential in creating peace because as we understand what someone is saying we come closer to a true understanding of the actual content of that dialogue. Basically, because languages are very complex and layered, content that is vital to understanding another person is often lost in translation or misunderstood. And if this understanding no longer a problem, we could be one step closer to finding peace with each other.
The use of the ‘peace machine’ wouldn’t just stop at language, Honkela believes it could further abolish cultural barriers and lead us to complete mutual understanding. According to him, this is possible because “machines will be able to simulate human behaviour and human cognitive functioning. We don’t need to programme machines through our expertise. Instead, machines can learn in a human-like way to become experts in many fields, thanks to simulation learning.” In other words, machines will be able to not only learn what we teach them, they will be able to further process much more through their our study and interpretations of that knowledge.
So why are some people so against technology advancing to the point of self-aware artificial intelligence?
Many people worry that artificial intelligence itself will take over our world when the real threat is if humans use it against other humans. Honkela stresses for the prioritization of this peaceful, rather than weaponize, use of technologies. This is especially important as technology continues to exponentially advance to the point where he believes that within 20 years we will have full access to the utilization of neural networks, big data and digital humanities. Similarly to what was previously discussed about social media, this access to data could be used for both positive and negative projects. As Honkela puts it, “the main concern is that some people start to use machines in a way where machines can take over other people, but not that individual machines could take over all of us people.” Thus, it should be carefully developed to ensure humans use the technology only for peaceful actions.
People also bring up that machines are replacing humans in many jobs where they can do the job more precisely and efficiently. There is thus a worry here that people will lose their jobs and that their skills will no longer be useful to society. Troy Henderson, who is doing his PhD on the universal basic income, believes that this movement of machines into our workplaces puts pressure on governments to provide a higher basic income. He argues this would then lead to “a reduction in poverty level, a reduction in inequality, an increase in income security and also an increase in personal freedom.” And I would argue that those things often coincide with higher levels of peace for individuals and society.
Another thing that people often think is that artificial intelligence cannot understand or replicate human emotions, but maybe this is just what we need when it comes to peace. Mikko Patokallio, an analyst with Finnish conflict-resolving NGO Crisis Management Initiative, says that he “wouldn’t say that the removal of emotions or cultural and societal lenses is a good thing for peace, but having a tool that can recognize and highlight them and, if necessary, filter them can be very useful.” This is because many emotions are involved when it comes to war and peace, specifically when it comes to memories and old experiences that can dictate our perspectives and to help us justify our violence. Having these machines could thus help us better understand ourselves, and why we do things, as well as understanding others and what their actions and words really mean.
It cannot be denied that our current world is reliant on advancements in technology, but is it our answer to eradicating conflict and promoting world peace? Some facets of technology, like the increasing use of social media, are already being used to facilitate peace as well as violence. There is also hope in some people, like Honkela, who believe machines and artificial intelligence are our answer for a future of peace. But it is essential that the design of the technology is always focused on making the world more equal, whether it is through the understanding of different languages or universal basic income. It is our job to steer these technologies in the right direction and embrace them when they have the potential to help humanity. But, only time will tell which path artificial intelligence will take us down. Who knows, maybe one-day weapons will be so intelligent, self-aware and conscious that they will refuse to detonate because they know that violence is not the answer to our problems.
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