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Peace Thinking and Emerging Technologies

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has garnered the popular imagination, though no one knows if it represents a technological utopia, a coming apocalypse or a new and improved way of selling stuff.

A casual search of recent headlines in just the past few hours shows that current interest in AI is ubiquitous and diverse. “Artificial Intelligence is Making Fake News Worse”, “Killer Robot Lab Faces Boycott from Artificial Intelligence Experts”, “Artificial Intelligence is Letting Scientists Classify the Probability of the Existence of Life” and “Cow Fitbits and Artificial Intelligence are Coming to the Dairy Farm. But Some Farmers Aren’t So Impressed”.

With so much information it is important to think carefully to understand what AI is and what it means.

The discussion surrounding AI distinguishes several categories of intelligence each of which represents a new stage of technology and possibilities. Generally, these are AI meaning simply non-biological intelligence and Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) which is the ability for a machine to emulate the thinking and cognitive abilities of humans, particularly in regards to dealing with uncertainty, problem solving and learning. Experts also envision the development of “superintelligence” which would be a general intelligence, which is vastly superior to humans. These possibilities equally evoke fears of an apocalypse and longings for utopia. A ‘science fiction present’ becomes all the more likely when the use of AI in other areas such as nanotechnology and biotechnology become more practical by harnessing its computational power and problem solving abilities.

At the core of a fascination with AI is its uniqueness. We can imagine the technological changes AI may bring, but we cannot predict what AI will become, or how humankind responds to it. Just as the coast is obscured from the view of the boat by the curve of the earth, so too is AI an event horizon in our own future.

Though we may be decades away from a fully developed AGI, issues around its governance are important now. These technologies will have an effect on everyone. The discussions surrounding governance should not be left solely to government, or corporations, or scientists and engineers but to everyone. If these technologies are the shape of the future then governance means deciding what type of future we want. Thinkers such as Elon Musk, Nick Bostrom, Max Tegmark and others at the forefront of the AI discussion have all expressed similar opinions that carefully understanding and planning at this stage in the technologies development will mean a better chance that humanity will reap the rewards of AI and not suffer its more negative/lethal effects. The stakes are quite high when the possible rewards are dramatic advancements in almost all fields of technology and the negatives include a global AI arms race.

The topics are complex effecting individuals, communities and nations in the short term and for many years to come. A way of thinking is needed which has been developed for working with difficult topics that can balance a variety of concerns. A Peace and Conflict Studies perspective is a missing voice in the discussions concerning AI. It is important because it provides a platform for discussing complicated issues while holding on to the most vital human concerns.

A Peace Studies perspective which best suites discussions of emerging technologies is one that understands “peace” as existing in the plural, as “peaces”. When understood this way we can liberate our thinking to more accurately reflect reality and assist us in imagining the future. Four general categories or “families” of peace exist, according to the Many Peaces approach developed by Dr. Wolfgang Dietrich and the University of Innsbruck which hold that these different families can be understood as the following: 1) Peace through security, 2) Peace through justice, 3) Peace through truth, and 4) Peace through harmony. Each of these four dimensions represents primary human perspectives and concerns. Understanding the relationships between technology and peace is about seeing clearly where we are as a species and deciding together where to go.