UN uses tech start-up to help war victims design peace deal
Thursday, 20 Feb 2020
UN peacemakers are to start using mass online conversations to try to understand what people living in war zones want from peace agreements.
The new technology — which could be used in countries such as Yemen, Afghanistan and Ukraine — has been developed by UN officials working with the New York start-up Remesh and will be rolled out within the next year.
People invited to take part in a mass conversation can answer questions and respond to polls on their smartphones and their responses are analysed in real time to try to present insights to the UN team.
Fabrizio Hochschild, the UN under-secretary-general responsible for digital co-operation, said he wanted to broaden negotiations beyond “the interests of ten men — and usually always they are men — sitting in a room with a UN mediator in between”.
He said the aim was to have a new system which “really reflects the aspirations of those most affected by conflict”.
While more than $27bn is spent each year on peacebuilding initiatives around the world, based on a UN estimate, as many as two-thirds of these actually do not lead to any durable resolution. Instead, conflicts are often resumed two or three times after an agreement is signed.
Several academic studies have shown that wider consultation is key to ensuring the success of any peace deal, but gauging sentiment is difficult because viewpoints and goals shift as conflicts evolve.
Remesh said its platform was a “real-time” dialogue, carried out with simultaneous translation.
“You could think of it as just a really, really fancy AI-powered conversation platform,” said Andrew Konya, founder of Remesh. “It could serve as a way for the mediator to interact directly and have a conversation with the population . . . so they would know whether what they were working on resonated.”
The main challenge is in finding people to engage with, and persuading them to do so. The UN said it would issue both online and physical invitations.
So far, Remesh data on the use of this technology for commercial and political use shows that, on average, about 25 per cent of people who say they want to engage in conversation end up doing so, and about 80 per cent of those respond to a majority of the questions.
However, the company reports that in cases where the topic of conversation is closely related to an issue impacting on people’s lives, these numbers can be much higher.
To guard against hacking, the algorithms are designed to minimise the impact that either lone malicious actors or “swarms” of bots can have on results, and have warning systems to detect participants who are behaving suspiciously. An SMS conversation platform is also under development for populations that do not have good internet access.
Rosemary DiCarlo, UN under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, said the plan would “give a voice to people who wouldn’t normally have a voice, it allows them to have an input into our thinking”.
The initiative is part of a wider plan by the UN to bring together academics and tech companies to work out how they can be more effective. The London-based Alan Turing Institute has developed an AI tool that it claims is 94 per cent accurate in predicting the location of new conflicts a year in advance.
Separately, the peacekeeping body is also experimenting with using virtual reality to brief Security Council members who are voting on operations in unstable states which are too difficult to visit, such as Yemen.
David Balson, a former employee of UK signals intelligence agency GCHQ, is now part of a company called Ripjar which is working with the UN on other potential tech innovations. He said that the field of peace and security “needs to modernise” to deal with the evolving threats such as hybrid warfare.
“When you look at what’s happening in places like Yemen, places like Ukraine, these are not the type of conflicts that happened 30 years ago,” he said. “These have much more complex actors, intentions, motivations, and some of them are deliberately hidden through deception and the substrate of cyber space
Remesh :: About
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The Remesh platform allows you to have a live conversation with your customers at scale, using AI to analyze and organize your audience’s responses in real-time. Gain fast, frequent, and efficient insights and make decisions with confidence.
Organize the world’s voice into Truths.
Remesh’s mission is to organize the world’s voice into Truths through engaging and understanding populations in real-time and enabling informed action at the speed of conversation.
Access to human truth makes a better world.
Remesh was founded in 2014 with the mission to create a technology that could truly represent the will of the people and amplify their collective voice. As a company, we believe in the power of discovering the Truth which requires engaging, exchanging ideas and having a dialogue with groups of people at a massive scale. Starting conversations that bridge cultural, political, social, economic and geographic divide, ultimately leading to a more unified and less divided world.