What is PeaceTech?

Report by Behruz Davletov, Uma Kalkar, Marine Ragnet, and Stefaan Verhulst: “From sensors to detect explosives to geographic data for disaster relief to artificial intelligence verifying misleading online content, data and technology are essential assets for peace efforts. Indeed, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is a direct example of data, data science, and technology as a whole has been mobilized to assist and monitor conflict responses and support peacebuilding.

Yet understanding the ways in which technology can be applied for peace, and what kinds of peace promotion they can serve, as well as their associated risks remain muddled. Thus, a framework for the governance of these peace technologies—#PeaceTech—is needed at an international and transnational level to guide the responsible and purposeful use of technology and data to strengthen peace and justice initiatives.

Today, The GovLab is proud to announce the release of the “PeaceTech Topic Map: A Research Base for an Emerging Field,” an overview of the key themes and challenges of technologies used by and created for peace efforts…(More)”.

How Technology Companies Are Shaping the Ukraine Conflict

Article by Abishur Prakash: “Earlier this year, Meta, the company that owns Facebook and Instagram, announced that people could create posts calling for violence against Russia on its social media platforms. This was unprecedented. One of the world’s largest technology firms very publicly picked sides in a geopolitical conflict. Russia was now not just fighting a country but also multinational companies with financial stakes in the outcome. In response, Russia announced a ban on Instagram within its borders. The fallout was significant. The ban, which eventually included Facebook, cost Meta close to $2 billion.

Through the war in Ukraine, technology companies are showing how their decisions can affect geopolitics, which is a massive shift from the past. Technology companies have been either dragged into conflicts because of how customers were using their services (e.g., people putting their houses in the West Bank on Airbnb) or have followed the foreign policy of governments (e.g., SpaceX supplying Internet to Iran after the United States removed some sanctions)…(More)”.

The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants

Book by Karen Bakker: “The natural world teems with remarkable conversations, many beyond human hearing range. Scientists are using groundbreaking digital technologies to uncover these astonishing sounds, revealing vibrant communication among our fellow creatures across the Tree of Life.

At once meditative and scientific, The Sounds of Life shares fascinating and surprising stories of nonhuman sound, interweaving insights from technological innovation and traditional knowledge. We meet scientists using sound to protect and regenerate endangered species from the Great Barrier Reef to the Arctic and the Amazon. We discover the shocking impacts of noise pollution on both animals and plants. We learn how artificial intelligence can decode nonhuman sounds, and meet the researchers building dictionaries in East African Elephant and Sperm Whalish. At the frontiers of innovation, we explore digitally mediated dialogues with bats and honeybees. Technology often distracts us from nature, but what if it could reconnect us instead?

The Sounds of Life offers hope for environmental conservation and affirms humanity’s relationship with nature in the digital age. After learning about the unsuspected wonders of nature’s sounds, we will never see walks outdoors in the same way again…(More)”.

The Haves and the Have Nots: Civic Technologies and the Pathways to Government Responsiveness

Paper by Jonathan Mellon, Tiago C. Peixoto and Fredrik M. Sjoberg: “As civic life has moved online scholars have questioned whether this will exacerbate political inequalities due to differences in access to technology. However, this concern typically assumes that unequal participation inevitably leads to unequal outcomes: if online participants are unrepresentative of the population, then participation outcomes will benefit groups who participate and disadvantage those who do not. This paper combines the results from eight previous studies on civic technology platforms. It conducts new analysis to trace inequality throughout the participation chain, from (1) the existing digital divide, to (2) the profile of participants, to (3) the types of demands made through the platform, and, finally, to (4) policy outcomes.
The paper examines four civic technology models: online voting for participatory budgeting in Brazil, online local problem reporting in the United Kingdom, crowdsourced constitution drafting in Iceland, and online petitioning across 132 countries. In every case, the assumed links in the participation chain broke down because of the platform’s institutional features and the surrounding political process.
These results show that understanding how inequality is created requires examination of all stages of participation, as well as the resulting policy response. The assumption that inequalities in participation will always lead to the same inequalities in outcomes is not borne out in practice…(More)”.

Big Tech Goes to War

Article by Christine H. Fox and Emelia S. Probasco: “Even before he made a bid to buy Twitter, Elon Musk was an avid user of the site. It is a reason Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov took to the social media platform to prod the SpaceX CEO to activate Starlink, a SpaceX division that provides satellite internet, to help his country in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion. “While you try to colonize Mars—Russia try [sic] to occupy Ukraine!” Fedorov wrote on February 26. “We ask you to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations.”

“Starlink service is now active in Ukraine,” Musk tweeted that same day. This was a coup for Ukraine: it facilitated Ukrainian communications in the conflict. Starlink later helped fend off Russian jamming attacks against its service to Ukraine with a quick and relatively simple code update. Now, however, Musk has gone back and forth on whether the company will continue funding the Starlink satellite service that has kept Ukraine and its military online during the war.

The tensions and uncertainty Musk is injecting into the war effort demonstrate the challenges that can emerge when companies play a key role in military conflict. Technology companies ranging from Microsoft to Silicon Valley start-ups have provided cyberdefense, surveillance, and reconnaissance services—not by direction of a government contract or even as a part of a government plan but instead through the independent decision-making of individual companies. These companies’ efforts have rightly garnered respect and recognition; their involvement, after all, were often pro bono and could have provoked Russian attacks on their networks, or even their people, in retaliation…(More)”.

The Equality Machine: Harnessing Digital Technology for a Brighter, More Inclusive Future

Book by Orly Lobel: “Much has been written about the challenges tech presents to equality and democracy. But we can either criticize big data and automation or steer it to do better. Lobel makes a compelling argument that while we cannot stop technological development, we can direct its course according to our most fundamental values.
With provocative insights in every chapter, Lobel masterfully shows that digital technology frequently has a comparative advantage over humans in detecting discrimination, correcting historical exclusions, subverting long-standing stereotypes, and addressing the world’s thorniest problems: climate, poverty, injustice, literacy, accessibility, speech, health, and safety. 
Lobel’s vivid examples—from labor markets to dating markets—provide powerful evidence for how we can harness technology for good. The book’s incisive analysis and elegant storytelling will change the debate about technology and restore human agency over our values…(More)”.

Digital Constitutionalism: The Role of Internet Bills of Rights

Book by Edoardo Celeste: “Investigating the impact of digital technology on contemporary constitutionalism, this book offers an overview of the transformations that are currently occurring at constitutional level, highlighting their link with ongoing societal changes. It reconstructs the multiple ways in which constitutional law is reacting to these challenges and explores the role of one original response to this phenomenon: the emergence of Internet bills of rights.

Over the past few years, a significant number of Internet bills of rights have emerged around the world. These documents represent non-legally binding declarations promoted mostly by individuals and civil society groups that articulate rights and principles for the digital society. This book argues that these initiatives reflect a change in the constitutional ecosystem. The transformations prompted by the digital revolution in our society ferment under a vault of constitutional norms shaped for ‘analogue’ communities. Constitutional law struggles to address all the challenges of the digital environment. In this context, Internet bills of rights, by emerging outside traditional institutional processes, represent a unique response to suggest new constitutional solutions for the digital age.

Explaining how constitutional law is reacting to the advent of the digital revolution and analysing the constitutional function of Internet Bills of Rights in this context, this book offers a global comparative investigation of the latest transformations that digital technology is generating in the constitutional ecosystem and highlights the plural and multilevel process that is contributing to shape constitutional norms for the Internet age…(More)”.

Why its Time for a New Approach to Civic Tech

Article by Anthony Zacharzewski: “…It’s true that there has been some recent innovation around this theme, including tools designed to support audio and video-based deliberation…However, the needs of modern participation and democracy are changing in a far more fundamental way, and the civic tech field needs to do more to keep pace.

For years, civic tech has focused on the things that digital tools do well – data, numbers, and text. It has often emphasised written comments, voting ideas up and down, and the statistical analysis of responses. And perhaps most tellingly, it has focused on single events, whether participatory budgeting processes or major events such as the Conference on the Future of Europe. 

Many of these approaches are essentially digitised versions of physical processes, but we are starting to realise now that one-off processes are not enough. Rather, civic tech tools need to bring people into longer-term conversations, with wider participation. 

This is where the next generation of civic tech tools needs to focus. 

Today, it is easy for a participant in a participatory budgeting process to use a polished digital interface to suggest an idea or to vote.

However, nothing on these platforms enables people to stay in the democratic conversation once they have had their say, to stay informed on the issues in their area, or to find opportunities to participate elsewhere. Even platforms such as Decidim and Consul, which allow people to participate in multiple different processes, still have a fundamentally process- and discussion-based model…(More)”

Protecting Children in Cyberconflicts

Paper by Eleonore Pauwels: “Just as digital technologies have transformed myriad aspects of daily life, they are now transforming war, politics and the social fabric.

This rapid analysis examines the ways in which cyberconflict adversely affects children and offers actions that could strengthen safeguards to protect them.

Cyberconflict can impact children directly or indirectly. Harms range from direct targeting for influence and recruitment into armed forces and armed groups, to personal data manipulation and theft, to cyber attacks on infrastructure across sectors critical to child well-being such as education and health facilities.

Many experts believe that the combination of existing international humanitarian law, international criminal law, human rights law, and child rights law is adequate to address the emerging issues posed by cyberconflict. Nevertheless, several key challenges persist. Attribution of cyber attacks to specific actors and ensuring accountability has proven challenging, particularly in the so-called grey zone between war and peace.

There is an urgent need to clarify how child rights apply in the digital space and for Member States to place these rights at the centre of regulatory frameworks and legislation on new technologies…(More)”.

14 tech-based innovations tackle youth mental health challenges

Blog by Elisha London and Anna Huber: “Depression, anxiety and behavioural conditions are the leading cause of illness for young people and suicide is the fourth most prevalent cause of death amongst 15- to 19-year-olds. Meanwhile, around 50 per cent of mental health conditions begin by the age 14 and 75 per cent by age 24. So, if youth mental health challenges and their environmental factors aren’t addressed, they extend into adulthood. Conversely, having good mental health means being better able to cope, connect and function, leading to more fulfilling and productive lives…

The Uplink Youth Mental Health Challenge by the World Economic Forum sought to identify some of the leading innovations around the world working to address these transformational needs, especially those led by young people themselves….

Here are the top 14 innovators selected:

1. Attensi and Dr. Raknes have developed the learning simulation Helping Hand, with the aim of preventing mental health disorders in adolescents. The game takes players through a series of life-like scenarios to reinforce positive decision-making, facilitate talking about feelings and thoughts, helping others master challenges and asking for help when needed.

2. Neolth Inc. offers a range of activities to help teens build coping skills and learn about mental health. Upon sign up, its proprietary algorithm matches teens with content personalized for their health needs, such as educational videos by clinicians and stigma-reducing content about lived experiences by teens.

3. Onkout connects a culturally relevant and unique trauma-informed, collective mental health peer support program to a virtual business training program, and the financial tools to improve young people’s lives. It supports young people in conflict-affected countries to be able to access services that are currently not available

4. Opa Mind has developed a “Voice Driven” support platform for people who struggle with emotional & mental health pressures. Opa Mind’s voice input system can listen and display various emotional based metrics, vocal biomarkers and supports, enabling individuals to undertake actionable follow-up steps in order to improve health and wellbeing.

5. OPTT, together with Curatio, offer an online psychotherapy tool to provide a technology-embedded, peer-to-peer social network for improved health outcomes. They allow mental wellness content producers, mental health teams, local health providers, and communities to work together to offer solutions proactively to their community members.

6. Renewal International Trust developed Positive Konnections (PK), a mobile application with a mental health intervention for young people with HIV that is designed to counter effects of stigma and help them access services privately or anonymously. The PK model uses creative narrative therapy techniques delivered on an accessible, youth-friendly platform…(More)”