Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality — Used Responsibly — Can Help Peacebuilding Efforts
As the UN Security Council addresses the subject of artificial intelligence this week, Politically Speaking revisits how DPPA is using new technologies in its conflict prevention work.
T he Security Council will hold tomorrow (18 July 2023) its first ever debate on artificial intelligence (AI), peace and security. The meeting meeting will take place under the agenda item “threats to international peace and security”. This may sound ominous, and indeed, advances in AI, particularly the evolution of Large Language Models (think ChatGPT), are already posing unique challenges in the areas of diplomacy and international relations. But these technologies are also being put to use in the service of peacemaking and peacebuilding.
The UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), for example, has been exploring the implications of AI with growing urgency given the rise in Generative AI use through tools like ChatGPT and image generators.
DPPA uses machine learning and natural language processing for various initiatives in its prevention and peacebuilding work, for example by running AI-enabled dialogues processes in Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Haiti and Bolivia, as well as to provide improved early warning on climate-change related issues in the Middle East and Central Africa. (read our Politically Speaking story on DPPA’s AI work here).
In the VR sphere, the Innovation Cell in DPPA’s Policy and Mediation Division has produced a series of immersive films, starting in 2021, to explore the medium as a way for diplomats and stakeholders to see through the eyes of people living in conflict and post-conflict settings. They can experience situations they are deliberating on without safety, cost or logistic concerns. In a peacebuilding context, VR can be used to help mediators gain experience of potential real-life situations.
Its latest video, Dreaming of Lebanon, released in June 2023 in collaboration with the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, is a VR documentary that provides an immersive experience of the lives of young Lebanese people. The film allows these men and women to explain — in their own words — their hopes for the future. Through the use of 360-degree filming technology, viewers are able to engage in an interactive interview with three young Lebanese from various walks of life and parts of the country, to explore their realities. (Watch the trailer here).
“New technologies can be a great tool for multilateral diplomacy and peacebuilding,” said Special Coordinator of the Secretary-General Joanna Wronecka at the launch of the film. “This virtual reality documentary shows the human face of Lebanon and how hope, patience and dreams can and must survive despite all the challenges, and it inspires young people to use all their potential to build a better future,” she added.
In 2019, DPPA released its first VR documentary film, Iraq 360. The project captures powerful scenes of the architectural destruction caused by conflict that ravaged the country for years. It walks viewers through meetings with parliamentary representatives and other politicians, as well as conversations with students and internally displaced persons.
In early 2021, the Innovation Cell released Sudan Now, a 360-degree virtual reality video, which allows viewers to experience the activities of the UN Integrated Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) in an immersive manner. Its viewers can travel virtually to both Khartoum and Darfur to meet with representatives of the Transitional Government of Sudan, civil society activists, and young Sudanese people.
In 2022, Pathways Colombia explored the road to peace as experienced by both former combatants and victims. The film focuses on the challenges and opportunities of peace consolidation, including reintegration, security, and reconciliation efforts, after the signing of the 2016 Final Peace Agreement.
“New technologies such as VR and AI possess immense potential in advancing the UN’s peace work,” stressed Martin Waehlisch, Team leader of the Innovation Cell to DPPA Politically Speaking. peacebuilding efforts and advancing the United Nations’ work towards global harmony. “VR technology allows decision-makers a unique opportunity for perspective-taking and Generative AI will help us to build VR applications most cost-efficiently in the future. We are actively testing VR experiences through the lens of behavioural science, incorporating principles of psychology, sociology, and ethics to mitigate potential risks and maximize the positive impact of emerging technologies. By embracing a responsible approach to VR and AI, we can harness its full potential for societal benefit and contribute to a future where technology is a force for positive change.”
Find out more about the work of the DPPA Policy and Mediation Division’s Innovation Cell here: https://futuringpeace.org/