Technology is transforming global treaties – TechCrunch


the TechCrunch Global Affairs Project It examines the increasingly intertwined relationship between the tech sector and global politics.

The word “treatises” doesn’t exactly conjure up images of modernity as much as a dusty history book. But as with other aspects of business and society, technology is rapidly changing the way treaties are monitored and enforced, with profound implications for global governance and international law.

Treaties are legally binding international agreements between countries. Pick any major issue that affects the planet or people and there is probably a treaty regulating the matter. Climate change, biodiversity, human rights, refugees, labor, shipping, transnational crime, and fishing are among the fields governed by global treaties, which count most countries, including the United States. , among its members. Treaties are fundamental to global governance and underpin most of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, for example.

But for treaties to work, we must be able to quickly and accurately discern compliance and outcomes. This has historically been a challenge: offenders by nature are prone to subterfuge. And even in areas of cooperation, such as scientific assessment and measurement, imprecise, infrequent, and inaccurate data can prevent signatories from understanding how a problem is evolving or whether their solutions are helping.

The era of big data

To meet this challenge, through dozens of treatises, research communities are organizing new technologies to produce fertile ecosystems that provide untold levels of data and insight into underlying conditions and the measurement of outcomes.

Technology is generating orders of magnitude increases in the amount of data. Vast ecosystems of instrumentation and computer hardware are being deployed. Today, scientific communities and governments are increasingly combining Earth observation and remote sensing (EO) satellites, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and tools for modeling and visualization. As we get better at processing and analyzing this data, we get closer to providing global insight, near real time and more accurate than ever.

While individual technologies have made important contributions, the real power behind these developments is their use in combination. Together, these technologies enable what I call “smart treaty systems.”

Anti-fishing technology

Consider the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which protects the biodiversity of flora and fauna, promotes its sustainable use, and guarantees fair and equitable access to the benefits of its use. To determine species ranges and populations, biodiversity researchers deploy camera traps and microphones in remote locations that transmit data on animal movements through cellular connections to the cloud. With a single camera generating up to 50 TB of data per year, deep learning techniques are used to analyze the big data and create maps of habitats and species numbers. Similarly, drones with video cameras inspect the migration routes of sea turtles in Costa Rica, with images analyzed through deep learning algorithms trained to identify individual turtles. Meanwhile, thousands of citizen scientists with smartphones record and upload animal sightings to mobile web platforms like Merlin.

Data from all these sources is shared with the Global Biodiversity Computing Fund in Copenhagen, an intergovernmental global biodiversity data repository. Its registrations have increased tenfold since 2007, and now exceed two billion registrations. Together, these data and research inform the work of the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the scientific platform dedicated to the CBD.

Meanwhile, conservationists have taken advantage of Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders used for ship safety to combat illegal fishing AIS signals to provide comprehensive global data on ship activity. Groups like Global Fishing Watch analyze AIS satellite data captured by private companies like ORBCOMM with deep learning to identify and map illegal fishing around the world. Investigators even use AI and ML to identify vessels that illegally shut down their AIS systems to evade detection.

It is not just the environment. Satellites are helping deliver on the promise of the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Convention. At the beginning of the process, Earth observation data is entered into a dedicated geospatial database and mapping platform operated by ESRI, the Information Management System for Mine Action to create maps of land contaminated by mines. . Web platforms also allow people to upload information about mine-affected areas. Mine remediation experts on the ground upload more detailed data obtained from a variety of sources, including ground penetrating radar (GPR) equipped drones and even trained rats with RFID collars to build accurate maps of landmine contaminated areas. Technicians then use machinery that combines GPR and robotics to identify (often using AI and ML) and destroy individual mines.

Recent government attacks on vulnerable Rohingya communities in Myanmar show how technology is also increasingly exposing and documenting otherwise hidden human rights violations and refugee treaties. Human rights researchers have used Earth observation data to track troop movements, evidence of expulsions, razing of villages and mass killings. Meanwhile, photos and videos that people provided via mobile phones were funneled through secure cloud platforms, such as the Eyewitness to Atrocities portal. ML and AI were used to automate EO data and video image analysis. Groups such as Amnesty International and SITU Research aggregated the data to generate virtual reality visualizations of environments where violations occurred. The EO data were cited in Gambia v. Myanmar case before the International Court of Justice. Voluminous records of hate speech on Facebook that fueled attacks on the Rohingya using ML for the case are also being collected and analyzed.

Risks and rewards

Despite the obvious advances, smart treatment systems are still emerging and experimental. However, there are signs that the value of technology is gaining recognition and will prove transformative. Certainly, many challenges must be overcome to harness the full potential of technology. At a basic level, all the scientific knowledge in the world will not matter if governments do not act accordingly and meet their treaty obligations.

One downside is the regulatory risk around data protection and privacy, especially when it comes to human rights and already vulnerable populations. Protections should be in place to ensure that data is used discreetly and anonymously whenever possible. AI is another concern. The draft EU regulation on AI seeks to prohibit the use of certain technologies, such as biometric identification systems in public settings, and similarly to its General Data Protection Regulation, it would affect activities outside of Europe. Also, while the public sector geospatial community has made open data a global standard, efforts must be made to integrate the expansion of private sector geospatial data into global governance efforts.

Although treaties are creatures of diplomacy and are generally considered rigid in nature, the history of technology application shows a dynamic process of bottom-up self-organization by diverse communities in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. and academic. These activities are likely to make important contributions that provide hope in our ability to overcome many important planetary challenges.
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