Technology: Ushering in world peace or an existential crisis?

Can technology unlock world peace? A panel of leading global experts was asked the question at the Doha Debates forum held in Qatar last December.

The three experts – Allison Puccioni, Subbu Vincent and Ariel Conn – deliberated on whether technology will potentially play a role in helping usher in lasting world peace or create an existential crisis for humanity.

Speaking at the debate in Doha, Puccioni, a world-renowned practitioner of imagery intelligence, said the increasing use of technology has helped democratise information that will eventually “help create a more equitable world”.

“Today, we can access from our smartphones the kinds of information, that a few decades ago, was held only in the hands of the most clandestine echelons of elite intelligence agencies,” she told the audience in her opening remarks.

A few years ago, Puccioni worked at a company where she was tasked with working with satellite imagery, YouTube videos, Twitter sentiment and other open-source information to track the Nigerian armed group Boko Haram.

“That sort of information before may have only part of intelligence agencies … but when the media has access, it has the capacity to hold governments accountable,” she added.

‘Putting ethics into technology’

Vincent, director for the Journalism and Media Ethics programme at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics, in the US, preferred to take the “middle road”.

“There’s always been grounds for optimism. But it’s been hyped up so much that people have forgotten that technology is really an amoral thing. It is designed without a moral sense,” Vincent added.

Vincent said that while technology has been used as a force for good, helping to mobilise people, it has also been used “to spread lies, disinformation and hate speech, amplify conspiracy theories, sow discord and divide people,” he told Al Jazeera.

“In the hands of good actors, it can be used for good. In the hands of bad actors, it will be used for bad,” he said.

‘Existential crisis’

The third participant in the debate, Conn, believes technology may have created an “existential crisis” for humans.

Conn, a former director of Media and Outreach for the Future of Life Institute, pointed out the connection between technology and warfare and how, throughout recent modern history, it has been used to bring about immense destruction.

“Technology is primarily developed for military prowess, for profit or both. And unfortunately, war is far more profitable than peace,” she said in her opening remarks.


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