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.