Technology to Help Prevent Mass Atrocities?

April 5, 2013

We are proud to present a guest article from Mia Newman, of Humanity United.  They're launching a fantastic Tech Challenge to  top atrocities that we'd love to see our community get involved with.  

Mia Newman, Humanity United

The tech field is growing rapidly around the world, and new gadgets, new apps, and innovative uses of old technologies are invented every day. But these advances in technology are not evenly spread. Some communities still live in infrastructure-starved regions of the world, while others live under governments hostile to their free speech. Elsewhere, human rights activists simply may not be aware of how best to leverage the emerging tools around them.

These difficulties become even more pressing in the context of some of the worst violations of human security and dignity around the world. For this reason, USAID and Humanity United have come together seeking to answer a core question: Can we channel the many innovations in technology around us toward helping to prevent mass atrocities? Part of President Obama’s comprehensive strategy to respond to mass atrocities and genocide, the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention is a prize-based challenge to encourage technologists, developers and others to engage and collaborate with the human rights space on five key problems.

The first stage of the competition opened in the fall of 2012, and the final round of the competition launched last week. This round of the Tech Challenge will offer prizes for excellent proposals submitted to three distinct challenges:

    1. The Model Challenge: how can we better model and forecast sub-national violence? (TopCoder)
    2. The Communicate Challenge: what technological innovations could facilitate better (and more secure) communication with and among conflict-affected communities? (Innocentive)
    3. The Alert Challenge: how can we better gather and verify information from hard-to-access areas? (OpenIDEO)

The Model Challenge, run through the TopCoder platform, is especially relevant to readers of DataKind. How can we apply data-driven analysis to the fog of war? What tools can we offer policymakers and activists to help predict which community is vulnerable to attack during a wider conflict? What unlikely places might data already exist that might help forecast this violence?

The Model Challenge builds on a series of stages. In the first stage, participants competed to find applicable, public datasets that compile potential predictors of atrocities at a sub-national level. Currently, core teams are competing to develop potential frameworks for predictive modeling using the best datasets collected from participants and experts in the first stage. Finally, we’ll use the winning challenge statement from stage two as the basis for the final Atrocity Prevention Marathon Challenge, in which participants will compete to construct the best, workable algorithm to predict community-level violence against civilians.

DataKind readers will be ideal participants in The Tech Challenge, and we strongly encourage you to apply. You are engaged, collaborative, data-oriented, and as interested as we are in constructively challenging our conception of what technology and data can offer to communities in the developing world. We look forward to hearing from you!