15 Aug

ICT and ‘Smart’ Conflict Resolutions

Posted By Polity Admin User

highfield_headshotIn recent years, we have witnessed a rapid growth of “disruptive technologies” which inflicted unprecedented impact on social, economic and political systems. What started with mobile internet and nanotechnology is followed by 3D printing, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and other technologies that change human communication in unfamiliar ways. While it has been often used to cause or enhance conflicts, technology also allows new opportunities to manage, transform and resolve conflicts.

To encompass the interface between technology and conflict resolution, an innovative approach would use a technological model. The “Internet of Everything “ could serve as a framework to “disrupt” conflict resolution and analyze it according to people, process, data and things.

People: The technological age introduced new powerful actors to conflict resolution processes. Those would include giant tech companies such as Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon who have a large control on much of the availability and consumption of information, tech. developers and programmers and “people”– civilians and their increasing opportunities to impact and change politics and society through mobile technology and social media networks.

Processes: The “classic” conflict resolution processes based on negotiation, mediation and dialogue should be practiced through online platfoss in addition to physical ones. The many opportunities in online communication could even develop into the establishment of a new sub-discipline – “Intranational Online Conflict Resolution”. In addition, there is a need to develop new conflict resolution processes that will address new challenges over new dimensions. Such processes will use algorithms and address human-machine interaction and maybe even machine-machine interaction.

Data: The emergence of “Big Data” is a new, uncharted land for conflict resolution. Endless, uncontrolled storages of text, images and videos that shape perceptions, increase emotions and influence behaviors. A major challenge would be to make a positive use of Big Data, which today is utilized mostly to provoke animosity and spread fear. The solution for this evolving uncontrolled dimension could arise from the new technological game changer – artificial intelligence.

Things: Physical objects earn new importance in human communication as they turn “smart” and connected. The design and performance of objects – from smartphones, to smart cities should be embedded with conflict resolution principles and project understanding, trust and cooperation. Additionally, we are witnessing a new breed of “things” – intelligent software, machines and robots that in the future will have ongoing interaction (and perhaps conflicts?) with humans.

But there’s good news buried just out of sight. At what I call the level of “retain trust”, it is possible for government officials to improve the way government works – and for citizens to notice. These strategies build on the lessons taught by the customer experience movement in business, where analysts have found that companies improving the satisfaction of their customers reap higher profits.

The Internet of Everything is just one possible framework to examine the interlink between technology and conflict resolution. Other approaches could seek and explore advanced technologies (artificial intelligence, virtual reality, Blockchain, etc’) or major characteristics of technologies such as connectivity, crowd-based, exponentially and more. Nowadays, some work already takes place using online platforms for dialogue process between Israelis and Palestinian in the Middle East. Several organizations use online gaming to increase empathy between Israelis and Palestinians and even Google too the responsibility to design a tool to improve online conversations. There are many other examples where technology has been utilized t solve social problems. It is time for conflict resolution to seek these opportunities as well.

This contribution to our News section comes from Arik Segal, who is a mediator and an expert in applying technology and innovation in conflict resolution processes. For more on his work and publications, see arik.segal@conflictech.com. We are pleased to have this piece on our website for a number of reasons. Firstly, chapter 17 of Contemporary Conflict Resolution (CCR) presented a strong argument in support of the idea that the theory and practice of conflict resolution would have to not only respond to the communications revolutions signified by the world wide web and ICT generally, but that there was a challenge and an opportunity to proactively engage with digital communications technologies to build a powerful transformative architecture for cyberpeace-making. As we pointed out in Chapter 17, ‘In the past ten years new terminologies for conflict conducted through the Internet, such as netwars and cyberwars, have been used to describe the impact of the revolution on conflict and conflict dynamics’. The Internet is now a global site where conflict is conducted, but it is also a massively but presently under-utilised yet powerful tool for conflict resolution.

Arik outlines ways forward in building a cyberspace for effective conflict resolution which has relevance for many themes and topics covered in CCR. For example, the problem of what to do when ‘real world’ conflict resolution fails, as it often does when there is radical disagreement between the parties, might be addressed by creating safer problem solving spaces capable of engaging strategic dialogue, which is difficult to practice face to face (Chapter 18 CCR). In the world of peacekeeping, peace drones are being designed and used to monitor compliance with peace agreements (Chapter 6 CCR), while in Chapter 3, on conflict data, we have seen how new dynamic and real time data gathering and analytic technologies are now being used to map not only the existence of conflicts but the dynamics of systemic peacemaking – the Global Peace Index and the Ushahidi Platform being examples.

Contemporary Conflict Resolution, 4th Edition and The Contemporary Conflict Resolution Reader are now available from Polity.