ICT for Peace Symposium in the Netherlands

In contrast to the previous event with a similar title (discussed here), this symposium really and honestly did have ICT for Peace as scope. The “Gaming for War or Peace: ICT voor Wereldvrede” Symposium, d.d. 4 Nov 2008, was organized by the Peace Centre Eindhoven. I was one of the four invited speakers, with as topic game theory and conflict resolution.

The first presentation was given by Antoine van den Beemt, who focused on the gaming industry, how youth deals with the violence in the games, and the more constructive, learning-oriented games, where learning is to be understood not in terms of how-to-kill but how-to-collaborate and build some virtual whatever together. Both from the questions and the forum discussion afterward, I do not think he has fully convinced the attendees of the usefulness of computer games. For instance, he claimed that it is ok to use a (any?) computer game to release one’s anger and frustration, to which the chair responded that an electronic drum kit works just as fine (or doing sports, etc.) and an attendee noted that it does not address the root of the problem.

My presentation was about ‘games against terrorism and for conflict resolution’, or: coalition formation among some but not all players during peace negotiations between terrorist groups and the government. It was partially based on a section of my MA thesis on terrorism & game theory and augmented with newer results, and has a very brief look ahead from the AI perspective as to what more could be in store with computational game theory (slides in Dutch and its summary in English). As expected, criticism was voiced that not enough variables were taken into account, like that psychology was set aside and not incorporated in the formulas. And, clearly, [computational] game theory is not a solver of it self, but a facilitator that helps gaining better insight in, understanding better, the situation, so as to form better informed opinions and choose strategies accordingly and that it also may offer simulations of possible resolution scenarios so as to make sensible moves instead of just ‘randomly’ trying out another one. Well, that is the idea, not that all those software simulators for politics exist already.

The third presenter was Tomas Baum, Director of the Flemish Peace Institute (Vlaams Vredesinstituut), who elaborated on the trials and tribulations of setting up a database about arms trafficking. Philosopher by education, he seemed to be more in his element during the panel discussion where more fundamental issues were raised on ethics, peace, education, and research.

The last presenter before the panel discussion George van der Meulen of Compuplan at the Polytechnic University of Eindhoven TU/e. He had many pictures of working GIS software that is being used in socio-political settings to settle land disputes, achieve cross-border collaborations, and so forth.

As alluded to above, the panel discussion was lively with plenty of questions, comments, and opinions from the attendees as well as the panelists (the 4 speakers). What we all could agree on within the scope of the theme, is that ICT is always no more than a facilitator for peace. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to properly address the three questions Peter Schmid, chairperson of the Peace Centre Eindhoven, had set out at the start. Homework, perhaps? The questions are as follows:

  1. Could possible future wars be fought and ended online, so that the spilling of blood (i.e., injuries and deaths) can be avoided?
  2. Will the density of an immense and, at least partially, wise stream of information help to achieve a peaceful society and world peace?
  3. How can ICT, perhaps playfully, contribute to a sustainable peace and sustainable development?
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