Defense Industry 2.0?

At Stanford Peace Innovation Lab, we think peaceful behavior design is the next defense industry–call it Defense Industry 2.0. We propose that:

  1. Proactive positive engagement across conflict boundaries (actual and potential) is the ultimate “Preventive Defense”–to extend William Perry’s term.
  2. Persuasive Technology (see end note for more detailed explanation) enables the possibility of precision-kindness instead of precision-bombing (with built in metrics to measure effectiveness and allow rapid optimization).
  3. Peace is profitable. We can measure the economic impacts of cross-boundary engagements–positive and negative. Contrary to the popular fallacy that war is good for the economy, it’s clear, especially for service, knowledge, and innovation economies, peace is really good for business, and violence is seriously net negative.

So essentially

  • Old School: the carpet-bombing of WWII required the “carpet-caring” of the Marshall Plan to give us the powerful trading partners and allies that Japan and Germany are today.
  • New School: Persuasive Technology, applied to peaceful behavior design, lets us preemptively launch precision-targeted “munitions” of care and kindness. We can now unilaterally, proactively build great allies and trade relationships–preventing wars in the first place. Think Marshall Plan 2.0.


We think this means the big social technology corporations–Facebook, Google, Twitter, Ebay, PayPal, and their peers–are positioned to be the next big defense industry, and we’re pitching specific projects to involve them all as industry partners in our research, and the research of our partner labs.

At the center of these concepts is a specific, frequently recurring data structure, which allows us to measure peace:

  • dynamically
  • at very high resolution
  • across massive sample sizes
  • with extreme precision

It looks like this:

Person A does a unilateral, measurable action, across a difference boundary, to Person B–generating a data trace.

We’ve formalized this data structure, and named these events MAPI’s. Minimum Acceptable Peaceful Interactions. Billions of MAPI’s are recorded in hi-tech company data bases, all over Silicon Valley, every day:

  • A Palestinian friends an Israeli on Facebook–transcending ethnicity
  • A Muslim emails a Hindu in Gmail–crossing the difference boundary of religion
  • John mows Sally’s virtual lawn on FarmVille–bridging the gender boundary
  • A Turk buys a collectible from a Greek on eBay–crossing a nationality boundary
  • A white recruiter searches for African American technology candidates on LinkedIn

and so forth. Each of these becomes a precise data point. Taken collectively, these data sets form a high resolution, realtime social stress map–think of this as the social equivalent of an earthquake faultline map.

This means we can now start pro-actively designing and incentivizing peaceful behaviors–actions like:

  1. John buys his latte in Manhattan, and the Barista asks “Would you like a side of peace with that?” John decides to buy $5 worth of racial peace in the Bronx, where his aunt lives. Printed on his receipt are descriptions of three specific, relevant peaceful interactions he subsidized; on eBay, Facebook, and a local Boys & Girls club.
  2. Wells Fargo uses the money earmarked for Community Reinvestment to reduce gang violence in East Oakland, where it owns a third of the houses–helping to protect the value of it’s mortgage portfolio in the process.
  3. The US Department of Defense starts subsidizing VISA card transactions between Israeli’s and Palestinians.

The Stanford Peace Innovation Lab is focused on four projects that leverage these ideas:

  1. PeaceDot: an awareness raising campaign where partner sites showcase exactly how much cross-boundary peaceful interaction their services enable. See as our flagship example
  2. The Social Stress Map: A nuanced, precise, real-time stress map of tension levels on all known human difference boundaries.
  3. EPIC Global Challenge: Results-based prize challenges to incubate and accelerate Peace Innovation Entrepreneurship. (Similar to NASA Challenge prizes to stimulate space exploration, and DARPA prizes to stimulate military innovations)
  4. Peace Markets: A Commodity-style marketplace enabling the direct purchase of individual peaceful interactions across precise conflict lines.

Want to help us? We’re looking for partners to:
Help us establish partner Peace Innovation Labs at other Universities
Send us visiting Peace Innovation scholars (we want to co-create with the best minds in the world, then send them home to launch partner Peace Innovation Labs at their home universities)
Participate in the upcoming Peace Innovation unconference
Project and Research partnerships
Organizing a recurring Peace Innovation Conference at Stanford
Feel free to address potential problems with this approach as well. We’re not claiming this is the best way forward, just the best use we can see for our particular toolkit.

There are obvious and vital issues that still need to be resolved with this approach, and we invite engagement on those. It helps that this path has a significant potential upside, and a fairly low up-front cost, especially compared to the possible benefits.


So, you’ve probably been asking. what is this Persuasive Technology stuff? In a nutshell, it’s technology designed to change behavior.

We’re not, with few exceptions, peace & conflicts studies researchers. The Peace Innovation Lab comes out of Sttanford’s Persuasive Tech Lab, which since the mid ’90s has been pioneering specific, empirical methods of positive behavior design.

With this Persuasive Technology tool kit we can now:
Measure peaceful interactions; this means we can design technology to elicit positive engagement behaviors, scale them, then rapidly optimize performance (see Mass Interpersonal Persuasion for some background).
Mix this with massive, precise, dynamic new social data-sets. Now we can run real-time social science experiments with sample sizes of hundreds of millions of participants–and you’ll begin to see the magnitude of the opportunity here. (See our collaboration with Facebook back in 2009 to get a sense of the potential.)
Design desirable behavior–and elicit it at massive scale; Used to be, if you wanted to change the behavior of millions of people, you pretty much had to control a nation, a religion, a multi-national business, or a media channel. Now, technology has democratized those systems and tools of influence, and the result is a much more diverse power-structure ecosystem.