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article imageAI used by historians to study periods of violence

By Tim Sandle     Nov 20, 2018 in Science
Oxford - A new application of artificial intelligence has enabled researchers to study the contributory factors that have led to violence in the past. The particular focus is with societies that have majority and minority populations with distinct religions.
Some historians, who use theoretical models for cause and effect, might balk at the idea of artificial intelligence providing alternate insights into major historical events. However, for other researchers the use of machines to process large quantities of data and to look for patterns provides the promise of new and as yet untapped insights.
The new study is led by the University of Oxford and it uses a new artificial intelligence platform to explore the reasons behind religious violence in history. The platform has been designed to assess whether human nature is naturally violent or whether certain factors, such as religious differences, exacerbate xenophobic tension and anxiety between different peoples and where this triggers violence.
The outcome of the question posed by the research was the indication that there is no clear evidence that people are ‘naturally violent’. Where violence occurs, this is under a certain set of circumstances traceable to dissent from the core beliefs of the majority.
The artificial intelligence tool used to arrive at this conclusion was a ‘multi-agent AI’, which differs from machine learning. Multi-agent systems are able to solve problems that are difficult for an individual agent or a monolithic system to solve. Intelligence includes methodic, functional, procedural approaches, algorithmic search or reinforcement learning.
With this particular application, the researchers used theories of cognitive psychology to program the artificial intelligence with different thought processes, creating individual agents possessing individual characteristics. They then ran simulations representing majority religious and minority religious beliefs. Different scenarios were then run with different variables.
Speaking with the website Biotechnqiues, lead researcher Justin Lane said: “Our study uses something called multi-agent AI to create a psychologically realistic model of a human, for example – how do they think, and particularly how do we identify with groups? Why would someone identify as Christian, Jewish or Muslim etc. Essentially how do our personal beliefs align with how a group defines itself?”
The findings reinforced that people are normally peaceful, and come together in times of crisis. The biggest factor in triggering violence was when members of the opposing groups deny the other’s core beliefs, reaching a stage when individual agents could no longer tolerate them. In other words, conflict is avoided by respecting the views and practices of minorities.
The new research has been published in The Journal for Artificial Societies and Social Stimulation. The research paper is titled “A Generative Model of the Mutual Escalation of Anxiety Between Religious Groups.”
More about Artificial intelligence, Violence, History, Religion, Society
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