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Suggested Citation:"Appendix D Statement by Alan Kay." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Information and Communication Technology and Peacebuilding: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12255.
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Suggested Citation:"Appendix D Statement by Alan Kay." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Information and Communication Technology and Peacebuilding: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12255.
Page 43
Suggested Citation:"Appendix D Statement by Alan Kay." National Academy of Engineering. 2008. Information and Communication Technology and Peacebuilding: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12255.
Page 44

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Appendix D Statement by Alan Kay2 Technology and Peace? People who like to make war are avid to use technology. And so are people who like to make peace. In the end, war and peace are really about “humans as they are,” namely, “anthropology without apologies.” Mutual economic comfort and various substitutes for naked power seem to be a better deterrent to war than philosophical arguments. This calls for “wealth,” and most wealth-making since the invention of agriculture has come from scientific engineering, especially in the last 400 years after science was invented and started to guide engineering. As Bob Noyce3 liked to say, “Scientists, Engineers and Artists create wealth, everyone else just moves it around!” So “enticing” (a nicer word than bribing) people with comfort and ideas is likely a good initial strategy for peace making. For a country like the US that is very good at creating wealth (and its tangible projection in the form of money), this suggests that we should not wage war but instead “essentially buy out competitors” via goods and education. (This needs to go far beyond simple bribery, but it is startling to divide population counts into the amounts we spend for war-making. Most people are “bribable” for much less.) In the larger sense of “goods and education,” we should put much more effort into stealthily re-educating the world (and, by the way, ourselves) rather than trying to force matters, and using “matters of force.” Technologies are part of “stealth education,” because the form of a technology can have gradual effects not readily apparent in its initial invention and use. As McLuhan said, “We shape tools and then they reshape us.” Earlier, Thoreau noted less approvingly: “We become the tools of our tools.” A beautiful Amish saying is: “What you take into your hands, you take into your heart.” Sometimes this is beneficial. Anthropologists gradually discovered that literate cultures have qualitatively different thought patterns than oral cultures, and could only ascribe the difference to mental changes brought by gaining the skills of reading and writing, which gradually lead to new forms of exposition and argument. The printing press made a huge difference, not just by spreading ideas around, but by changing how people learned and thought, and in what terms. Another McLuhan gem: “You can argue about a lot of things with stained glass windows, but Democracy is not one of them!” This point of view on the relations between media, knowledge and ways of thinking is as startling to most people as “the world is not as is seems” is to most non-scientists (in fact, it is part of “the world is not as it seems” as related to human beings). If media are not neutral to ideas and thought, we should be as careful with the invention and deployment of new media as we would with infectious biological agents with no vaccines. For example, we would be able to see that television is one of the most pernicious and dangerous mediums to introduce into society, since with almost no sense of loss it can displace media that can better carry important ideas. Many of the electronic communication devices of the last 150 years bring back oral communications modes and ways of thinking. This delivers “Air Guitar:” how to use lots of transistors without advancing anything important! This is what McLuhan feared when he predicted a “global village” and a return to tribal thinking and senses of identity, fear, and actions. And it is part of Thoreau’s terse warning. 2 3 The co-inventor of the integrated circuit and co-founder of Intel. 42

So, a seemingly innocent technological benefit—such as using mobile telephones to provide needed and useful information, or encouraging television as “an information technology that doesn’t need to be learned”—could derail the larger needs of a society to learn to think non-orally. What if the very difficulties of learning to read and write are the real benefits when surmounted? What if the real difficulties of math, science and engineering are the real benefits when mastered? Science is the most important of all of these because it represents humanity’s strongest attempt at processes which try to get around the “poor thinking” built into our brains. It is not about just trying to think better, but to learn to think in very different ways about very different perspectives that are taken on the world. These powerful error-detecting and correcting processes are even more needed for the difficulties of political thinking than for the physical and biological worlds. Good teachers are scarce everywhere in the world, and the situation is particularly acute in less-developed regions. Science’s very different “the world is not as it seems” epistemology is difficult for most adults not brought up with this non-commonsense point of view (and thus this is not part of most teachers’ world view). Developing better teachers, and enough more of them, is not easy or swift, even with will and resources. What can technology do to help here? We know from the history of the printing press that much learning can be done through books without teachers if the learners can read for content. This was one of the main educational goals of the 19th century and early 20th century, but can hardly be found now. It is now possible to provide books (and more) on electronic devices for about 20 cents a book providing one is willing to purchase 500 books. This fits very well into the needs of K-8 education and can be thought of as access to many more than 500 books (and many other educational activities as well) for an amortized cost of about $10-$15 per year. Given that the teaching and mentoring problem for non-obvious epistemologies is the largest part of improving education, the most interesting and important question is not how inexpensively can personal laptop computers be made to provide “books” and other “information” for the underprivileged, but whether the 50 year old question “can the computer be programmed to act better than no teacher and better than a poor teacher” be answered in the affirmative? If so, then for the first time there exists a route to provide “a teacher for every learner,” and it should be easy to see that that this is one of the “Grandest Challenges For Humanity” (and especially for the STEM fields). One of the hardest, but most useful and important “teachers” to make that could act above the needed thresholds would be to create “a teacher” that can help most children learn to read and write in their indigenous language without needing any other special human assistance. Or to help children learn “real science” and “real math.” One of the important intellectual transitions that have to be managed for children are those that necessarily start with stories (because they are strongly built into human minds) and move toward the “non-story” forms of math and science that have been so powerful. Another learning sequence moves through “muscular learning” by direct contact with the world through “configurational learning” (including visual and auditory figurations), and then to the more abstract world of symbolic representations. Of course, it would be great to involve other members of family and society as much as possible, but this really needs to work for the learners alone if necessary. This has been a dream in computing for more than 50 years now, and some of the best people in our field have failed to create above threshold systems (the several interesting exceptions have been brute force designs that are very expensive and time-consuming to produce). However, if we are trying to do better than a poor teacher, and we are not trying to do as well as a great teacher, the computing resources and accumulated techniques today should be sufficient to make a 43

concerted effort and succeed. This would qualitatively change the world by qualitatively changing how education can happen and be delivered. It would cost considerably less than a B2 bomber to pull off, and would have immeasurably more positive impact. 44

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Those who would use information and communication technology (ICT) in the cause of peace need to be cognizant of the risks as well as the benefits. ICT can facilitate positive dialogue but also hate speech. It can be used to fight corruption but also facilitate it. Simply giving people more information does not necessarily lead to predictable or positive results. As people become more informed, they may become more motivated to change their circumstances and to do so violently.

On December 14, 2007, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) convened a group of experts in diverse fields to consider the role of ICT in promoting peace and conflict resolution. The one-day workshop was designed to consider current and emerging technologies and strategies for employing them in conflict management and diplomacy. It also aimed to explore how organizations with a role in promoting peace, like the U.S. Institute of Peace, can most effectively leverage technology in carrying out their missions.

Information and Communication Technology and Peacebuilding: Summary of a Workshop reviews the group's discussions on number of key issues, illuminates certain practitioner needs, and suggests possible next steps.

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