XR for Peace – The First Ideathon Contest for VR Applications to Resolve Dispute
Peace Innovation through virtual, augmented and mixed reality: What sounds like a rather far-fetched approach in times of ongoing bloodshed, violence and absence of a sustainable peace agreement has been put into practice at the XR for Peace conference on January 23rd 2020, conducted by Sammy Ofer School of Communication at IDC Herzliya.
We at FNF Jerusalem Office were pleased to take part in this exciting event, having the opportunity to combine two fields of engagement, which are of our upmost concern: promoting peacebuilding and exploring innovative technologies to find solutions to pressing challenges at stake.
The XR for Peace event aimed at motivating young Israelis to think of novel approaches to resolve disputes, promote peacebuilding using immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality and encourage social entrepreneurship. The one-day event was divided in two major parts. In the first half of the event over 30 students from the IDC Herzliya from different disciplines worked together in teams to develop innovative concepts, using virtual and augmented reality experiences in order to overcome psychological barriers to conflict resolution with the particular focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With the guidance of mentors from the field of virtual reality, psychology, and conflict resolution, the students developed virtual reality-based (AR / VR) applications, such as the winning venture entitled “On the plane alone”: A video game pretending that Israeli and Palestinians will have to escape a locked plane together. The aim of this particular project is to create a common ground and break stereotypes.
Additional solutions aim for instance at providing a second chance to Palestinian and Israeli prisoners involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a virtual reality experience; or enable people from both sides, who are totally separated from each other and know very little about each other to get a better understanding of each other’s daily life reality through X360 cameras.
The competing student teams presented their ideas in the second half of the event, in the frame of a public conference on “Peace Innovation through Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities”. The over 120 conference guests had the opportunity to see the pitches of the student teams and to listen to high profile speakers, experts in peacebuilding and XR industry who shared their insights into innovative ideas for social change through technologies. Among the speakers was Gilad Sher, Former Chief of Staff for Prime Minister Ehud Barak and senior peace negotiator and David Slama, Sr. Director leading Mellanox’s PA & Gaza activities and Sheldon Himelfarb, president and CEO of the CEO Peace Tech Lab.
Dr. Beatrice Hassler Lev-Tov, Head of Virtual Reality Laboratory for Dispute Resolution at IDC Herzliya School of Communication described the motives for the conference: "In our lab, we learn about conflicts and their origins and use virtual reality to influence people and resolve disputes. But these technologies must also be accessed and implemented in a broader context. That's what we did at this event.” Arik Segal, Lecturer in Innovation in Conflict Resolution at IDC Herzliya, emphasized the enormous potential of “combining young leadership capabilities with technologies” that could lead to a “political breakthrough”.
Anne Cohen-Koehler, the Head of the Israeli Desk at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for freedom, concluded her speech with the following words: “Ladies and gentlemen, we at FNF are convinced that peace is not a luxury but a necessity if one wants to achieve regional and economic and political stability in a globalized world. Moreover, in our eyes, peace is a moral imperative for all those who regard human dignity and freedom as a guiding compass in their moral coordination system. The experienced failures should not keep us from trying and daring again even though the challenges are indeed tough and risks are at stake – but the consequences of not trying again will hit us sooner or later harder than we think. New technologies open up new opportunities, let us explore them.”
FNF-Jerusalem would like to thank the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, especially the Sammy Ofer School for communication for this great initiative, for the professional implementation and for hosting the event and of course, we would like to thank all the ideathon participants, our inspiring young explorers, change makers and bearer of hope for the future.