Image Credit: University for Peace - Photo: 2023

Promoting a Culture of Peace in the Digital Era Impacted by AI

By Dr Francisco Rojas Aravena*

The writer is the Rector of the University for Peace (UPEACE), San José, Costa Rica. Following are his remarks at the High-Level Forum on the Culture for Peace convened on 31 August by the President of the UN General Assembly.

NEW YORK. 4 September 2023 (IDN) — Peace remains elusive, while war is omnipresent. The future remains uncertain, yet we know it will be diverse, multidimensional, and interdisciplinary. While prediction might elude us, prevention is within our grasp.

We require holistic perspectives, learning from history’s lessons. Predictive capabilities in the digital age, coupled with Artificial Intelligence, expand as processing power and data accumulation increase. Drawing from past data, these predictive frameworks influence today’s decisions, shaping our future, though their exact nature remains unpredictable.

Accelerated and constant, digital transformations are reshaping our world. This cumulative process encompasses varying levels and diverse applications of technologies and platforms in the Digital Era. These avenues can contribute to cultivating a Culture of Peace and supporting the efforts of peace-related institutions and agents.

The “digital era” has ushered in changes across governments, businesses, institutions, and individuals. Cultural impacts, habits, and customs have also been influenced. Significant changes have occurred in economic relations and international and domestic trade with the advent of virtual currencies. Swift advancements in automated transportation and security systems have unfolded. Business practices and service deliveries are continually adapting. In the digital era, Artificial Intelligence wields colossal and growing power.

The pandemic revealed the consequences of lack of dialogue and cooperation, spawning pronounced nationalist tendencies. Simultaneously, medical advances driven by digitization brought rapid progress to medical sciences. Information and data exchanges have yielded improved outcomes, leading to the creation of life-saving vaccines. Early alerts about climatic and other disasters, along with counter-terrorism efforts, have enabled preemptive decisions, averting socio-economic and political upheavals across societies.

However, the digital era has also been entwined with destruction and war, including atomic threats. Ongoing conflicts in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Korean Peninsula highlight this dark aspect. Autonomous weapons violate humanitarian principles and are ethically unacceptable. Machines, robots, and digital tools are increasingly employed in warfare. Digital-linked weaponry has transformed the nature of conflict, broadening its impact on civilian populations and resulting in higher casualties among soldiers. Furthermore, the digital era has facilitated broad and targeted social surveillance in authoritarian/dictatorial regimes.

Digital progress exacerbating inequalities

Efforts are needed to reclaim global peace and stability. This necessitates treating digital heritage as a global public good. It demands increased political will, diplomatic efforts, and an extensive campaign to promote a Culture of Peace, ending hate speech and the dissemination of false information. It also requires countering the malicious use of transnational organized crime in conjunction with Artificial Intelligence, as it fuels violence and cybercrime.

Digital progress is exacerbating inequalities, both between northern and Global South countries and within them. Key questions arise: Who controls it? Who benefits from its use? Who accumulates the data? The inherently global nature of the Digital Era transcends geographical boundaries in its development. How can we advance towards greater equity that fosters stability and peace?

A digital divide emerged in this era, separating those who could connect globally from those who lacked the means. This divide transformed into a social and educational one. More than 36% of the world’s population is excluded from digital technologies and their benefits. Notably, almost two-thirds have access, though unevenly distributed. As the digital revolution accelerates, inequalities intensify, with China and the US dominating in high-tech concentration.

A substantial portion of humanity remains excluded from the new digital age, resulting in a reshaping of human interaction and requiring adaptation. Digitization has impacted the State, public policies, governance, and transparency. Global homogenizing processes have introduced novel relationships in various industries, often surpassing human intelligence and redefining the interaction between artificial intelligence and humans. Automation across sectors necessitates urgent measures to sustain work and wellbeing models developed over previous industrial revolutions, particularly in the context of diminishing solidarity.

Peace achieved by the UN being questioned

The long-lasting peace achieved by the United Nations is now questioned, as the culture of war prevails in various global regions. Constructing peace demands the development of a Culture of Peace. The supposed technological peace has shown vulnerabilities, as evidenced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The potential of a technological peace culture has yet to be fully realized.

While the influence of the digital era and Artificial Intelligence is growing, their impact on peace is not as clear as their role in conflict scenarios. Rebuilding peace-related thinking and redirecting peace values through global digital platforms is essential. Digital technologies provide peacebuilders with increasingly user-friendly and efficient tools and platforms. These enhance communication, the exchange of ideas, and the propagation of peace values.

Such platforms substantively contribute to establishing new structures that elevate the Culture of Peace above narratives of war. An effective Culture of Peace aids in trust-building, the cornerstone of multilateral institutional development and democratic processes. The digital era and Artificial Intelligence influence diplomacy, enhancing conflict prevention capacities and thus increasing diplomatic success possibilities.

However, it’s a misconception to assume that the sole reliance on new technical instruments linked to digitization will yield the desired results. Tolerant dialogue and political will remain the essential tools for reconciling conflicting interests, finding common ground, and transforming conflicts, thereby achieving sustainable peace.

Sharing knowledge, perspectives, and perceptions, exchanging potential solution designs, and fostering transparent dialogue are crucial mechanisms on the path to lasting peace.

Dr Francisco Rojas Aravena. Credit: University for Peace

[…] allow me to highlight certain areas where digital advancements are beneficial for peace and for developing and implementing a Culture of Peace:

1. Conflict analysis and potential resolution scenarios.

2. Early warning programs and emergency response, both immediate and long-term.

3. Development of platforms for contact, dialogue, and collaboration.

4. Mutual Trust and Security Measures and Verification Programs.

5. Programs fostering democracy, electoral transparency, and countering misinformation.

6. Educational and promotional platforms for Human Rights and the promotion of values linked to non-violence and solidarity.

7. Exploring new models of economic development, progress, and sustainability.

8. Movements for peace, disarmament, and the prohibition of weapons of mass destruction and autonomous weapons.

9. Advocacy and community engagement programs.

Innovation for peace

The University for Peace, established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1980, aims to integrate knowledge of digitalization into our teaching and academic tasks. We have a research and training program on Innovation for Peace. Within this program, we’re creating a space for the application of innovation in healthcare and peace. Innovation for peace is the key to its sustainability.

In the realm of information and (mis)information, we are collaborating with UNESCO to develop a program for monitoring and training journalists, as well as a journalist protection program. Misinformation and fake news weaken democracies, institutions, and governance.

We’ve established a Chair for Preventing Illicit Trade and Combatting Transnational Organized Crime. From this, we’re developing anti-corruption and money laundering prevention training programs. Transnational organized crime is the primary threat to democracies.

At UPEACE, we believe that digital technologies are essential tools for fostering critical thinking. This thinking should be holistic, encompassing diverse perspectives, intergenerational impacts, gender perspectives, and devoid of racial, religious, or identity-based discrimination. It should integrate ancestral knowledge tied to territories, practices, and traditions adapted over centuries in various parts of the world.

We must adapt to new, horizontally structured educational models with strong tendencies toward individualization, within contexts of misinformation and distrust.

The role of the United Nations is crucial in governing the digital era and shaping future developments in Artificial Intelligence.

Future sustainable peace—a Culture of Peace in the digital era—is built on constructing decentralized technological platforms and models with broad participation, strong interconnectedness, transparency, safeguarding individual data, and promoting trust as the foundation of institutional development and multilateralism, placing humans at the center.

If we want peace, let us prepare peace! [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image Credit: University for Peace

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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