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Technology, Innovation Has Role But Will Not Address ‘Problems At The Heart’ Of Humanitarian Challenges

IRIN: Humanitarianism is in crisis. Digital innovation won’t fix it
Mark Duffield, professor emeritus at the Global Insecurities Centre at the University of Bristol

“…[D]onor governments have seen their influence decline as their political pursuit of austerity and domestic retrenchment increases and multilateralism loses its cohesion. Countering this negative prospect, however, stands a more optimistic — even celebratory — techno-populism. Its proponents speak not so much of a humanitarian crisis but of the need for humanitarian innovation. They present first-order political problems that demand democratic debate and urgent action as heuristic challenges to be sidestepped and rendered profitable through smart technology, agile design, and private acumen. For the techno-populists, the enemy is not authoritarianism but institutional inertia and hidebound convention. Technology does many things for humanitarian response and prevention. Addressing the problems at the heart of our industry’s crisis, however, is not one of them…. If technology is to play a useful humanitarian role we have to make a choice. The easy road is to do nothing and submit to ever deepening automation, remote management, and the robotization of behavior. The more difficult task — and one that will define progressive politics for years to come — is to bring the oligarchic electronic atmosphere under democratic control” (1/7).