We are at war. Some say World War III has already started, fought on the internet through the manipulation of information. Alternative facts and deep fakes reach out from behind screens, manipulating reality while we are too entrenched in our filter bubbles to reach out to each other.
Thinking about peace in the current era is not an abstract idea for trivial contemplation. It’s an urgent, necessary strategic exercise to ensure we are not wasting the future.
This is why our newest exhibition at MOD. – WAGING PEACE – seeks to explore whether we can fight for peace. Is it possible to aggressively pursue peace? How might we repurpose systems, technologies and infrastructure in support of peace?
I want our visitors to watch Trigger Warning by Superflux (UK), a speculative fiction film set in a near-future of escalating mistrust and conflict, and question how algorithms that control our social networks and news feeds. The film is deliberately uncomfortable, demonstrating how artificial intelligence and algorithms may magnify effective strategies used to manipulate audiences.
The question inherent in exploring these technologies and their use and misuse, and their effect as per the angry scenes of outrage in Trigger Warning, is whether we might be able to use those same techniques to grow trust instead of distrust, or whether we need to find new ways of lighting sparks that drive connection.
If the media landscape sets the scene for why peace is important, it’s equally important to understand how people think about peace, and whether they value it enough to be actively building peace in their own communities.
We asked Assoc Prof Anne Sharp at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at UniSA to investigate perceptions of peace. It turns out that most South Australians do not spend much time thinking about peace and only 62 pe cent think it’s important for health and wellbeing. Concepts of peace seem old-fashioned, stuck on doves, the V-sign gesture or anti-war protests from 50 years ago. A more modern notion of peace is fuzzy, associated with anything from shoes to cupcakes. For the Brand Peace exhibit, UniSA students developed campaigns to motivate people to actively wage peace.
We learnt a lot about active peace building from our curatorial adviser, Gill Hicks. Hicks is globally known as a survivor of the London terrorist bombings on July 7, 2005, suffering severe and permanent injuries including the loss of both her legs. Hicks’s experience in responding to tourism, as well her previous experience in art and design, helped us think through sustainable models for peace, especially in terms of the actions individuals could take to embody empathy. Thinking of, as she says, “peace as a verb”.
Yet we can go further, to thinking about peace not as avoidance of conflict or the absence of war, but the presence of justice. Peace is access to healthcare and education. Peace is pursuing good governance with consequences for corruption and ensuring good. These are some of the Pillars of Peace included in a framework developed by the Institute for Economics and Peace. Also included is a high level of human capital, the equitable distribution of resources and free flow of information.
The free flow of information is explored in some of the tablet games we curated for the Games for Peace exhibit, and in exploring control and applications of satellites in Orbitopia in the Universal Gallery. Even more important as we consider the growth of the space industry and the location of the new Australian Space Agency here in Adelaide.
The defence industry is also clearly set to expand. A conversation about peace is lacking if the role of defence industries is omitted. We want our visitors to think about the growth of this industry and how investment in defence technologies might influence peace, or have applications across many industries. In the exhibit Augmented Relief, access to healthcare is viewed in augmented reality using the Microsoft Holo Lens to move through a deployable field hospital designed by SAAB.
Optimising a high level of human capital – skills and knowledge – requires clear-headedness. Assoc Prof Siobhan Banks at UniSA helped us consider the importance of sleep for good decision-making in Sleep Ops, where our visitors climb into sleep pods to hear stories from shift workers in life and death situations including military operations and hospital emergency wards. A lack of sleep can strongly influence our ability to make sound decisions. This can have potentially disastrous consequences if sleep deprivation occurs in military situations and other safety-critical settings. What is worse, a diminished ability to make thoughtful decisions often goes unnoticed. Cognitive performance such as vigilant attention, processing speed and working memory (all important for safe and effective functioning) are affected by not getting enough sleep.
I want young adults in South Australia to be actively thinking about the creation of peace when they think about the future. How might they change systems or apply new technologies in pursuit of peace? Can they design a peace machine?
By working with schools across the year, we have on display 16 designs for peace machines aimed at improving personal relationships and behaviours, the free flow of information and scarcity and distribution of resources. One peace machine designed by students at Wilderness School is uNecklace, a 3D printed tag inspired by friendship necklaces that aims to unite children with their parents after deportation or separation on the US-Mexican border.
We do ourselves and our communities no favours by taking peace for granted. This exhibition is hopefully a small step in increasing the awareness of the importance of working hard towards building peaceful societies, and inspiring young adults to take up careers in multiple disciplines across many industries that allow them to be an active participant in waging peace.
Dr Kristin Alford is a futurist and the Director of MOD. at the University of South Australia, a future-focused museum provoking ideas at the intersection of science, arts and innovation.
MOD., North Terrace (adjacent Morphett Street Bridge)
Until April 2019
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