and shaping. Sensing essentially involves reacting to something that is happening. But most conflicts are not surprises, even though their timing may not be known for sure. Sensing technologies can direct humanitarian aid, but, unlike shaping, they do not necessarily change the conflict. (Chapter 5 addresses the path from sensing to shaping.) The question, then, is whether the use of technologies can, in fact, prevent a conflict. Can they be used to help resolve land tenure disputes or differences over water rights before these become violent conflicts? This more anticipatory and active approach involves the dissemination and use of information to reduce differences among people and groups.
Joseph Bock, director of global health training for the Eck Institute for Global Health at the University of Notre Dame, wondered whether some aspects of big data might be overly hyped. Flashpoints are often single precipitating events, not related to complex pattern analysis, and understanding them may be more important than analyzing big data. Still, he said, the latter could be immensely useful in tracking sentiment through media and communications, which today is a labor-intensive task. Combined with the use of sensors to detect conversations, big data could be “incredibly powerful,” though there is also a risk of being massively intrusive.
Fred Tipson called attention to the opportunities provided by technologies that promote collaboration. Peacebuilding is built on interactions among individuals and groups, and technology platforms can facilitate these interactions and broaden the range and effectiveness of the actors involved.