Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Future of Simulation

by Ronald "Skip" Cole

I want to ask you a favor. I ask that you spend sometime in the next week or so, maybe while in the shower, or stuck in traffic, pondering a question. This is a question that I and others have thought about for several years, and I think we are just scratching the surface as to where the answers will lead us. So I sincerely hope you can give it some thought, and share back here any insights that you may have.

The question is this, "How can simulation improve human decision making?"

The ability for people to easily and inexpensively create synthetic or ‘virtual’ environments is relatively new. We can project that this ability is going to get even more inexpensive and powerful. Imagine that, just as any educated adult is expected to be able to write a document with a word processor, in the future, any educated adult will be expected to be able to use software to create virtual worlds, worlds that can be used for educational or even experimental purposes. How will that change the real world?

There is nothing, by the way, theoretically holding us back from this future. It is just a matter of good interface design and refining our educational processes. What are now graduate level courses in simulation design will soon become quite common fare - there are not a lot of profound secrets there. Indeed, as simulations have to work with us common humans in the loop, most of the lessons seem intuitive when stated out loud.

As the printing press ushered in a new age of creativity and improved communication, the ability to create interactive worlds will do so also. Just as Gutenberg probably could not have foreseen a talented 18 year old writing "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" for mass distribution using his 'movable type,’ it is hard for us to see all there is to come. So the time spent pondering this question may be time very well spent.

How could simulations affect your personal life? Are you having a hard time convincing someone of something? Don't you just wish you could let them step into a world in which they have already made the decision you want them to make, so they could see how better off they would be? We try to do this with each other all of the time. Painting a shared vision of a common future is a very powerful technique in persuasion. Technology will help us do this with even greater saliency.

How will simulations affect commerce? Imagine if anyone doing a business proposal, for a restaurant say, had to submit a simulation of how the restaurant would function; when the customers would come in, how they would be treated, etc. Currently banks don't demand such an item because it would be too expensive to create, but the price is coming down on such software. Modern software techniques and the open source movement are driving the costs down, and will continue to do so. Software, once written, is written, and if it is well written, other software can be built on top of it.

How will international affairs be different when all nations could see, maybe just a little bit, further down the line, when making their plans? What if any nation planning aggressive action could see how things are likely to pan out? This ability might not be enough to stop all wars, but it may at least prevent some of the more foolish ones.

What happens to the human race as its members grow in experience and improved communication? How will our 'collective intelligence' be changed? The ability to predict and communicate second and third order effects has been traditionally been poor, and it will never be perfect. Look closely behind any modern catastrophe, and you will find tortured Cassandras: People who tried to give warning, but were not heard. These voices have been drowned out by the charlatans, noise and expediency. Creating platforms to allow ideas to play themselves out in more objective settings seems like something we must do. It is hard to put a value on not making bad decisions.

I have been working on an Open Simulation Platform (OSP) at the United States Institute of Peace. This is a tool that could allow anyone to create, conduct, refine and share online training simulations. I have been exploring its use in helping prepare peacebuilders, by providing another possible tool for them to use relying on cheap, ubiquitous simulation technology. Innovations have traditionally been fueled by great conflicts. The 'space race' gave us microelectronics and microwave ovens. The cold war produced the Internet - a distributed network that could survive a nuclear attack. If the 'fuel' that drives the innovation toward inexpensive, ubiquitous simulation technology is the pursuit of peace, I think that matters. And I’m proud that we are playing our part in this next stage of the mankind’s progression.

So please, share back with us any thoughts you may have. And if you are interested in helping us on this journey, drop an email to OSP at

The views expressed here are purely the author’s are not necessarily those of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policies.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Design for Change Finland

by Anna Keune and Pavan Ramkumar

Design for Change (DfC) is a worldwide school contest that originated from Kiran Bir Sethi's Design for Giving project, in Ahmedabad, India in 2007. Here you can find out more about the global movement:

DfC is calling children to work for one week on solutions for a local problem they are most drawn towards. The contest aims to give children the opportunity to think critically about their everyday life, form working groups, come up with a plan of action, and act upon it. The global movement has great potential to awaken the talents and awareness of children to participate in shaping their world, by offering a simplified four-step design process toolkit of "feel, imagine, do and share" to children. DfC sends the message that learning can happen through hands-on design practices, and interconnectedness of knowledge domains. During the DFC contest, the teacher's role changes. The teacher becomes a facilitator and learns together with the students.

The DfC contest is specifically targeted to the school environment. With this it is expanding the possibilities that school offers to children by stretching the boundaries from within.

Currently, 22 countries are participating in the global movement including Finland. We set up DfC Finland with 4 volunteers, in the spring of 2010. We performed the four step process with children in Helsinki. The children chose their own content and worked on a campaign to stop Finland from supporting cluster-bombs in war territories, and a pro-cycling blog. You can view a video summarizing the workshop in Helsinki here:

We also conducted an interview with the teacher, who offered us the opportunity to work with the children. You can listen to the experiences of the teacher from Finland here:

Recently, DfC Finland launched an open call for volunteers to help take Design for Change Finland to more schools or youth groups around Finland. School teachers from Oulu and Lapeenranta have expressed interest to participate with their classes.

Last Saturday, we conducted a workshop with Unicef, in which the teachers and students of the Unicef school in Helsinki got to try out part of the DfC process and get inspired. The topic was to develop the Unicef school network in Finland.

On November 20th, the global child rights day, the TEDxYouth will be organized at the Aalto Design Factory in Helsinki. Design for Change Finland will be offering a workshop for children there.

Design for Change, as it originated from India is representative of a trend in how and where innovative ideas originate and spread, sometimes called reverse innovation. It picks up on universal challenges and offers an example of a solution from India to all other parts of the world. Anyone in the world can gain from learning how to become more socially engaged, and collaborate with others based on their own interests.

If you are curious and moved to contribute, do reach the DfC Finland volunteers at

Thursday, June 17, 2010

HCI Hero award for HCI for Peace

Juan Pablo Hourcade received the 2010 HCI Hero Award at the University of Maryland's Human-Computer Interaction Lab's Symposium for his work with Natasha Bullock-Rest in organizing HCI for Peace. We hope the award will help raise awareness of HCI for Peace's goals and will encourage others to pursue research in this area.

Monday, May 17, 2010

HCI for Peace at CHI 2010

Bringing HCI for Peace to CHI 2010 was a great success! We recruited 500 peace ambassadors through the distribution of as many postcards and peace ribbons, held an informal brainstorm for peace gathering, and collected many ideas for peace on sticky notes.

At the peace gathering, partners discussed their ideas for peace and wrote them down on sticky notes. From these ideas, several main themes emerged: promoting education, increasing social awareness of everyday actions, creating a culture of peace, engaging other organizations, exposing the ugly side of war, promoting cross-cultural understanding, and building infrastructure and tools.

Promote education
Education plays an important role in creating peace. Participants suggested working on raising literacy rates for women, educating children, giving opportunities to adults and elderly people, and building education ICTs. Another participant captured a popular sentiment – “peace starts from the kids.”

Social awareness of everyday actions
Some participants noted the importance of informed social awareness. One stated, simply, “think about who you’re working for and what their goals are.” Another mentioned that giving consumers tools to ascertain product origin and the conditions in which different products are created can help people making more ecologically and humanitarianly sound choices. Social networking sites can allow the sharing of social pressure to maximize individuals’ social impact. Another participant stressed the need for moving beyond quick fixes by figuring out how to promote long-lasting changes in attitudes and behaviors relating to informed consumer knowledge

Highlight peace
Creating a culture that values peace includes creating activities that highlight peace: geocaching of “peace sites” in the model that war sites and battlefields are commended, including places like the ones where Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. spoke.

Engage other organizations
Ben Bederson and Allison Druin mentioned creating an HCI Peace Corps in their acceptance talk for the SIGCHI social impact award, a group that could carry out service projects around the world, in the form of Master’s projects, PhD work, and sabbatical work, similar to the University of Maryland’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab’s service day. Other ideas included connecting with existing peace groups to combine forces. A participant suggested hosting a TED talk that focused on peace and conflict in Africa or other developing regions.

Expose the ugly side of war
One idea to promote peace is to educate people about the negative facts of war through pictures, stories, and anecdotes, as a way to encourage people to think about the importance of peace. One participant noted, “conflict should not produce profit,” highlighting the frequent interplay between the two, dovetailing with another participant’s suggestion to create visualizations that illuminate the public cost of war and who profits to help people understand the true forces that create conflict.

Promote cross-cultural understanding
By far the most discussed topic was reducing conflict through emphasizing a common humanity, encouraging people to step out of their comfort zones to make cross-cultural connections and seek out information from new sources of ideas, help them learn about each other, and think from another perspective. Ideas to this effect included setting up video-conferencing classrooms across the world, creating a site for “speed friending” across the globe – particularly for countries in conflict, encouraging diverse groups of young children to communicate through playing and collaborating together across time and space, setting up partnerships for the privileged to collobrate and help people in need, and a computer-mediated pen pal system to match children in conflict prone tension areas. To seek out different perspectives, one participant suggested a, a space in which one could discuss ideas with people from different persuasions and backgrounds. A participant mentioned that it is important for everyone’s voices to be heard, even if it requires extra work on our part. Microblogging could be used as a helpful tool, both for sharing experiences and for making higher numbers of contacts from other countries.

Infrastructure tools
In the realm of infrastructure, one participant expressed a desire to create guidelines/heuristics to evaluate the use of oppressive language and sexist applications or online tools as a way to cut down these harmful forces. Another suggested that the HCI community could use its technical skills to build tools for organizing and communicating for peace. Another suggested improving worldwide computing technology overall.

If any of these ideas speak to you, think about the ways in which you can contribute to make peace a reality. If you have ideas or projects you’d like us to hear, feel free to leave a comment, tweet with the #hciforpeace hashtag, or leave us a note on our Facebook group.

What are we going to do now?
For CHI 2011, we are planning an HCI for Peace Special Interest Group, as well as a panel discussion.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Massive brainstorm at CHI 2010

How can computing be used to promote peace and prevent conflict? Join us in a massive brainstorm to coincide with CHI 2010 by following these steps:

Become a Peace Ambassador. Find a peace ribbon attached to postcards near the CHI 2010 registration desk or in the Exhibits Hall and add it to your nametag.
Talk to your friends about computing for peace.
Share your ideas on Twitter (#hciforpeace), our Facebook page (HCI for Peace), and this blog by commenting on this story.

Need some food for thought? Browse this blog for articles on computing initiatives related to peace and interviews with Allison Druin and Ben Bederson (winners of the 2010 ACM SIGCHI Social Impact Award), Ben Shneiderman and others.

Not going to CHI? We would still like to hear your ideas. Share them through one of our online homes.

We are hoping to spark a massive online brainstorm, tapping into the expertise, knowledge, and wisdom of the HCI community. Our grassroots movement seeks to create the conditions for peace by promoting the precursors of peace – democracy, education, economic opportunity – and decreasing the known causes of conflict -war profiteering, inequality, environmental stress, and the failure of the social contract, to name a few. The HCI community is uniquely positioned in the computing world to affect change in this arena, its focus not only on individual users, but on the effect of technology at a societal and global scale.

Through wearing the peace ribbon, you not only express your desire for a more peaceful world, but also are instantly linked with the like-minded Peace Ambassadors around you, visibly united in a common goal; we hope this call to action starts community-wide discussions from which positive action can spring. CHI brings together individuals from different backgrounds and areas of expertise, from many countries, with different opinions. It is our wish that this diversity will cross-pollinate, resulting in a wide variety of ideas on how computing can help achieve peace. Our world can be no brighter than the worlds we dream of.

It is our dream that the conversations started at this conference will encourage research, create a community of impassioned individuals, forge new partnerships, start long-lasting discussions, and prompt actions to promote peace and prevent conflict.

And, if you know of computing for peace work we should feature on our blog, e-mail us at

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Interview with Thomas Smyth

Thomas Smyth is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research focus is on technologies for international development. At CHI 2010, he will present a paper titled "MOSES: Exploring New Ground in Media and Post-Conflict Reconciliation," which was selected as an Honorable Mention. We recently had a chance to interview Thomas about his research in Liberia and his thoughts on the use of computing in post-conflict reconciliation efforts.

HCI for Peace: Could you tell us a bit about MOSES and your experiences in Liberia?

Thomas: Sure! The MOSES project was conceived in partnership with Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in an effort to promote and support a national dialogue on the causes and effects of the war, as well as on other topics. Together, we realized that Liberia's severely limited post-war communications infrastructure could not support rich communications across large distances. So we designed a mobile, video-sharing kiosk system allowing users to record and browse comments, opinions, and discussions. I've attached a few photographs of the system in use.

MOSES has been across much of Liberia, thanks to the tireless work of our country program manager, John Etherton. We have collected over 900 videos and thousands have used the system. We found that MOSES was very well received by Liberians. They were quite willing to engage seriously with the system, talking about a wide range of serious issues, and also contributing lots of lighter content such as jokes and songs. In an interview study we conducted, the results of which appear at CHI this year, users expressed feelings of empathy and solidarity they derived from the system, as well as a general enthusiasm towards the experience of using the novel machine. Users were especially affectionate towards the system's cartoon helper character, also called Moses. As a result, we are particularly excited about the potential of animated agent technology for novice, low-literate user groups. In general, we've learned a huge amount about designing for such groups.

Of course what we can't claim is that MOSES has had a general, positive impact on Liberia's prospects for peace. Measuring such a thing would nigh to impossible given the time scales we're faced with (the TRC's mandate has now expired and our project has since wound down along with the TRC itself.) On the other hand, we can claim to have built and fielded an advanced, interactive, new media technology for dialogue, and found that it was understood, embraced, and engaged with on a deep and meaningful level by ordinary Liberians from all strata of society. We saw that the system supported rich connections and communications between far flung regions of Liberia, where none would have been possible otherwise. We feel that this is a great first step in this largely unexplored territory.

My personal experiences in Liberia were truly unforgettable. I spent three weeks there last year helping to ready MOSES for deployment. I travelled to several rural areas within a few hours of the capital, where the sheer beauty of the Liberian countryside and warmth of its people were in plain and abundant view. Remnants of the era of conflict were also sadly everywhere, be they bombed out buildings, amputee ex-combatants, abandoned tanks, UN checkpoints, or a feeling of insecurity among locals in some areas, due to the regular occurrence of armed robberies. Twice, Liberian research assistants I was working with had to intervene to prevent me from wandering off into dangerous situations. Luckily, I did not actually get into any trouble while I was there. Despite all the reminders of turmoil, though, I experienced a palpable degree of hope among the people I met. This came out both through discussions I had with people as well as through what they recorded using MOSES. Issues of development--better schools, better roads, better hospitals, better economic performance--were hot on everyone's tongues. The war received far fewer attention. I look at this as a good sign.

HCI for Peace: What role do you see for computing technologies in future post-conflict reconciliation efforts?

Thomas: I think supporting communication should and will continue to be a focal point. I would be interested to explore using new media technologies in conjunction with a human moderator to support in-person synchronous discussions, as a complement to the more automated approach we adopted with MOSES. It would also be great to see MOSES scaled up, perhaps in a different context, to include multiple kiosks--our initial pilot only included one.

Sadly, intra-state conflict of the sort experienced by Liberia is on the rise in today's world. As such, I think that efforts to incorporate ICTs into post-conflict reconciliation efforts will only increase, as the cost of technologies continues to drop. It will be interesting to follow the results of these experiences in the future, as a consensus on best practices hopefully emerges.

I would close, though, by putting a large set of parentheses around this work and other efforts like it. I think anyone would agree that the most important factor in preventing repeated civil conflicts is strong and careful leadership both from within the country and from the international community. We position MOSES as an example (and we hope an inspiring one) of some of the tools at the disposal of those who must work tirelessly to build and maintain peace. We remain at their service.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Interview with Ben Shneiderman

We recently had a chance to interview Ben Shneiderman, one of the founders of the human-computer interaction field. Ben is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science, Founding Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory, and Member of the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies at the University of Maryland. He was made a Fellow of the ACM in 1997, elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2001, and received the ACM CHI Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

HCI for Peace: You have been a consistent advocate for designers of technologies to take into account the impact of their creations on society. This has included calls to consider the impact of technologies on peace and democracy. In what ways can the HCI community encourage researchers and practitioners to use social impact statements and other forms of promoting the ethical and responsible design of technologies?

Ben: I believe developers of every socio-technical system should consider its impact on society and invite stakeholders to comment during planning stages. This is especially appropriate for government funded efforts, as described in:
Shneiderman, B., Rose, A., Social Impact Statements: Engaging Public Participation in Information Technology Design. Proc. CQL'96, ACM SIGCAS Symposium on Computers and the Quality of Life (Feb. 1996) 90-96.

Other researchers, using the term Value Sensitive Design have carried these arguments further and showed how careful analysis can lead to improved designs that reduce bias, increase privacy, or promote participation. Practitioners can build on these suggestions and then record their efforts on public web sites so as to inspire others. For example, in working with Jonathan Lazar we helped the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to make their web site more accessible and universally usable, which they describe in a link from every page:

Developers of commercial web sites can also describe their process to consider the social impact of their work. This could include ways to promote health equity, social justice, democratic processes, and especially peace. HCI professionals can volunteer to monitor voting machine usage or consult for state governments on the design of effective voting machines.

HCI for Peace: With Harry Hochheiser, Jenny Preece and others, you have been recently focusing your attention on technology-mediated social participation. How can we use or design social participation technologies to promote peace and prevent conflict?

Ben: The widely popular social networks, blogs, microblogs, and other communications technologies could spawn dramatically increased social/civic participation for valuable national priorities such as healthcare, energy sustainability, education, disaster response, and community safety. However, applying these technologies to promote peace and prevent conflict will require imagination and effort.

We can all be inspired by the example of Jodie Williams whose emailing and organizing work to develop the International Campaign to Ban Landmines won her the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Similar efforts by inspired leaders could organize citizens to ban other weapons, reduce arms spending, fight oppression, promote human rights, and prevent conflicts. I and other HCI professionals have had the opportunity to help design instruments for the International Atomic Energy Association (UN unit in Vienna) to monitor adherence to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) and the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (NTBT). Raising awareness of the opportunities for HCI involvement in similar efforts is an important step.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Peace innovation from Stanford's Persuasive Technology Lab

Good news for us: We are not the only ones in the field talking about computing technology and peace.

BJ Fogg, Director of Stanford’s Persuasive Technology Lab, has taught a class called Peace Innovation: Learning How Technology Can Promote Global Harmony in 30 Years. The class gave students the task of devising ways to use Web 2.0 technology – YouTube, Flickr, Google Maps – to promote greater harmony. Students worked in small teams to run “peace innovation trials”, creating goals, their own tools for measuring success, and developing tools that “ordinary people” could use to measure the impact of a peace trial.

A main idea was that by creating these materials and making them widely available, high school and college instructors all over the world would be able to lead their own students in peace innovation. The projects ranged from Unplug Now, whose goal was to get users to unplug any unused appliance in their proximity, to Peace and Sticky Rice, an application that attempted to use game-playing as a way to increase participants’ willingness to take action to end hunger, and measure the “stickiness” (or resistance to change) of attitude changes at later points in time. Through not prescribing any one solution, and defining peace by evaluating how to create its antecedents, the solutions can be flexible, efficient, and efficacious.

Fogg, recognized as one of Fortune’s 2008 10 New Gurus You Should Know, lays out his steps for creating a peace technology infrastructure now:
1. peace technology course at Stanford
2. blogging about peace technology examples
3. creating direction of peace technology initiatives
4. developing teaching materials
5. preparing to fund trials
6. systematic insights (resources)

Often, Fogg notes, trying to define peace serves as an obstacle to achieving it, when discussion gets mired down and then prevents the taking of action. Instead, he suggests, we should focus on creating the environment for peace. First, he says, it is important to examine the antecedents of peace, then evaluate the importance of each antecedent and how likely it is to be achieved, and with that information then target the antecedents that will bring about the most change fastest.

Fogg also helped found Peace Dot, a directory of websites that show their interest in peace by registering subdomains with a “peace” prefix.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Louis Fein, champion of academic computer science and computing for peace

In 1963, on the heels of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the moment the world teetered precipitously on the edge of the outbreak of nuclear war, a computer consultant in Palo Alto, California proposed the idea of a new organization: the Peace on Earth Research Center. The proposition, put forth in Computer-Oriented Peace Research, suggests putting the sharpest analytical minds to the practical problems of achieving peace, constructing computer models to understand the problems that cause armed conflict, and developing solutions to prevent future conflicts.

Its author, the Palo Alto consultant Dr. Louis Fein, had just seen an achievement of his vision at Purdue University, which established the first Computer Science Department in the United States in October 1962. Fein played an instrumental role in the movement to establish computer science as a discrete academic discipline, parted from engineering and mathematics. Oft-rebuffed by universities around the country, he persevered in his attempts, publishing papers and presenting his views across the country.

Fein held pioneering views not only on the place for computer science in academia, but on the role of computers in peace oriented research as well. In Computer-Oriented Peace Research, Fein notes that computer-oriented analysts have directed their experience in many areas,
"...banking, insurance, combinatorial mathematics, chemical engineering, and war gaming. We are quite familiar with the role of computers as problem solvers, as calculators and as simulators, emulators, and imitators. But computers play their most significant role as a socratic goad to analysis and problem formulation."
Just as the Manhattan Project was completed only with a vast research team, Fein writes, we should not expect that peace is task for one professor, or a "lone genius" "on a dedicated philanthropist's grant," but a project needing serious and expert attention from the community as a whole.

It can be difficult to conceptualize peace, and to talk about it as well, but, Fein dismisses complexity as a reason to neglect peace, noting "the distinctive analytic approach to practical problems and computing instruments of computer-oriented analysts" can only be beneficial in finding the solutions for peace.

Now, almost 50 years later, how has the field responded to his call? The past 10-15 years have seen a large number of publications addressing Fein’s first challenge to understand the breakdown of peace by statistically analyzing the empirical data on conflict to better understand the risk factors.

Equipped with this information, the computing community is prepared to tackle Fein’s second challenge: using computing technology to defuse current conflicts and prevent future ones from occurring. Private motivation to go to war as well as the horrific impact of war could be exposed through information visualization techniques. Mobile technologies can help provide information to prevent disease, promote healthy habits, and aid people in developing regions. Technologies to facilitate peer-to-peer micro-financing can also provide more people with opportunities to become economically self-sufficient.

“What the hell are we making these machines for,” asks Fein in a 1965 Time article, “if not to free people?”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interview with Allison Druin and Ben Bederson

We recently had a chance to interview Allison Druin and Ben Bederson, winners of the 2010 ACM SIGCHI Social Impact Award. Allison is the current Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Laboratory at the University of Maryland and Ben preceded Allison in the same position. Ben and Allison have both conducted research on technologies with strong ties towards promoting peace and understanding. Below is a transcript of our interview.

HCI for Peace: Education and awareness of other cultures are often cited as precursors of peace. You have been a leader in giving children a voice in the design of technologies. You have also led, with Ben, the International Children’s Digital Library, providing free online access to thousands books in over 50 languages. What is your long-term vision for your work on giving children a voice in the design of technologies and promoting intercultural understanding?

Allison Druin: My long-term mission which I believe is shared by our whole research team in Maryland, is to create more design methods and technologies that can increase participation of children from all cultures. We are currently working on new “Distributed Co-Design” methods that can enable children in Haiti to add their ideas to a design problem being worked on by a group in Israel or Mongolia. We need online tools that can support this kind of distributed intergenerational design collaboration. We are just at the beginning stages of understanding what is needed. We believe though when this can happen, our technologies can give voice to all children from all cultures which is a critical first step in understanding what we all share and how we are different.

HCI for Peace: One of the most consistent findings in the literature on the causes of conflict is that fully democratic countries are less likely to participate in international conflicts and to have civil wars. What role can the human-computer interaction community play in supporting democracy by designing and evaluating computer-based voting systems?

Ben Bederson: There are two critical components to voting systems. The first is that they accurately record the voter’s intended vote. The second is that the voter believes that their vote was accurately recorded. Both are crucial. If citizens don’t have confidence that their vote is accurate (even if it is), then the voting system – and resulting outcome – is suspect, and can cause grave social problems. The HCI community must help ensure that not only are voting systems reliable, secure and accurate, but also that the voters understand and believe in them. This is a very important distinction because some of solutions that aim to solve security and accuracy issues are likely to decrease user confidence – by using complex cryptographic techniques. As always, the best solutions balance the needs of all stakeholders.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

We are not alone. Other organizations and initiatives promoting peace through computing

The ICT for Peace foundation is a group that enhances communication in situations needing crisis management. The group, started after he 2003 World Summit on the Information Society, aims to assist the international community in using information and communication technologies to effectively assist in humanitarian crisis situations, allowing relief and peace groups to better communicate about needs and collaboration efforts in the field, to ensure supplies go to the right places, and to share crucial information. ICT4Peace works with a wide range of organizations, including the United Nations, Microsoft, and Oracle. This group strives to reduce the chaos often surrounding violent conflict situations.

World Peace Through Technology
World Peace Through Technology attempts to educate and inform about ways technology can be used for peace, including ways to foster community, games that teach cooperation skills, open source, ways to reduce technology’s negative impact on the environment, and generating energy through alternatives to fossil fuels. The group aims to bridge the digital divide and use art and music to popularize and inspire striving towards peace.

The Future of Interactive Technology for Peace
The Future of Interactive Technology for Peace was a conference hosted by the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon University. Scholars of all stripes got together to examine new directions of applying interactive technology to the arenas of conflict resolution, diplomacy, and international affairs. They used PeaceMaker, a video game inspired by real events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as a starting point for new ideas.

Peace dot
Peace dot uses a simple idea – organize websites relating to peace by registering their subdomains with a “peace” prefix, which is then organized into a directory by Stanford. Groups as diverse as Couchsurfing, a site that connects travelers with users around the world willing to host them, to Children of Peace, a UK-based charity addressing the protection and well-being of Israeli and Palestinian children, are connected through this scheme.

If your organization or initiative is involved in promoting peace through computing technologies and you would like to be featured in this list, send us an email – -- and we’ll gladly do a feature.

Friday, February 26, 2010

One Laptop per Child and Peace

By Juan Pablo Hourcade

The goal of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) Foundation is to provide low-cost laptops to children in developing regions. These laptops, also known as XO laptops, were designed to support children’s learning inside and outside classrooms, with an emphasis on mobility, connectivity, and low-energy consumption. Were they also designed for promoting peace? I think they were, because of the way they promote education and economic opportunity in developing regions.

When Paul Collier examined the predictors of civil wars, he found that each additional year of schooling reduces the chances of civil war by 20 percent. OLPC is an example of how technologies can promote peace at a large scale by increasing the educational opportunities of children.

I got to see first hand how the XO laptops from OLPC indeed increase educational opportunities for children during my visits to Uruguay. Uruguay is the first country to fully implement OLPC’s vision, giving every child in public elementary school an XO laptop. I have had the privilege to observe the laptops being used in classrooms, as well as speak to the people who have been affected the most by them: the children, their parents and teachers, and those in charge of deploying the laptops and training teachers.

The design of the XO laptops is leading to a revolutionary use of computers for educational purposes. Instead of having children go to a lab at preset times, children and teachers have access to the laptops at any time, inside or outside the classroom. Because of their mobility, children handle them as paper notebooks, easily asking help from the teacher, or learning how to get things done by sitting next to another child. Instead of getting in the way of social learning, the laptops encourage these learning experiences.

Most of the new learning, though, is happening because of the connectivity the laptops provide. On the one hand, teachers told me that the laptops are encouraging children to read more. Before the laptops arrived, children had access to only a few books in their classrooms. After they arrived, they had access to all the content available on the Internet. It is not surprising then, that it was much easier for them to find something to read they were actually interested in reading.

Connectivity also encouraged children to write more, according to their teachers. This may have led to better writing, according to Daiana Beitler, who conducted an analysis of grammar and spelling in children’s blogs. The reason behind the improvement is that teachers were encouraged to ask children to submit compositions and other writing through blogs. The result is that the children knew that in addition to their teacher, their friends, their family and anyone else connected to the Internet could read what they wrote. This global audience not only served as motivation for them to write better, it also enabled children to “peer review” each other’s works, and see how the children who did better in class wrote.

Another positive impact of connectivity is that it has elevated the status of the schools in towns and neighborhoods. This is because the schools have wifi access, and children and parents who want to use the Internet congregate near school buildings after school hours, transforming them into community hubs.

The long-term impact of OLPC may also bring benefits in another area often cited as a precursor for peace: economic opportunity. Because all children get a laptop, OLPC acts as a social and economic opportunity equalizer. It gives the children who have it a better chance of gaining 21st century skills and participating in the global economy.

Further reading:
Collier, Paul (1999). Doing Well out of War.

Hourcade, J.P., Beitler, D., Cormenzana, F. and Flores, P. (2008). Early OLPC Experiences in a Rural Uruguayan School. Extended Abstracts of CHI 2008 Conference (alt.chi). ACM Press: pp. 2503-2512.

Friday, February 19, 2010

About Us

Who are we?
We are members of the Human-Computer Interaction community interested in using computing technologies to promote peace and prevent conflict. This blog aims to highlight and celebrate work already done to this end and to encourage further work with peace as its explicit goal. We hope this call to action starts some community-wide discussions from which positive action can spring: our world can be no brighter than the worlds we dream of. We seek to create the conditions for peace by both promoting the precursors of peace – democracy, education, economic opportunity – and decreasing the known causes of conflict – war profiteering, inequality, environmental stress, and the failure of the social contract, to name only a few. The HCI community is uniquely positioned in the computing world to affect change in this arena, its focus not only on the user sitting in front of a screen, but on the effect of technology on humanity at a societal and global scale.

What are we doing?
At the CHI 2010 conference, we recruited 500 peace ambassadors, held an informal brainstorm for peace, and collected many ideas for peace. We had even more activities at CHI 2011, including a paper presentation and a panel. More recently, we hosted a SIG at INTERACT 2011, and a workshop at CHI 2012. We will be hosting a SIG at CHI 2013. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay informed.

How can you help?
We are looking for stories of computing technologies being used in positive ways to promote peace and prevent conflict to feature on our blog. If you are working on or know of such a project, we would be happy to feature a short interview or a resource link. We are open to all sorts of collaborations and ideas.