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Digital dilemmas in conflict zones

Presented at Pavilion A from 3 May to 14 July 2024 Digital Dilemmas sheds light on the multiple digital risks and dilemmas faced by civilians and humanitarian aid workers in conflict zones.

A collaboration between the EPFL EssentialTech Centre and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), co-organized with EPFL Pavilions and in partnership with the EPFL Center for Digital Trust (C4DT), the Digital Dilemmas exhibition sheds light on the multiple digital risks and dilemmas faced by civilians and humanitarian aid workers in conflict zones.

In the digital age, an increasing number of technologies permeate every aspect of our public and private lives. Their omnipresence is of little concern for many, despite potential repercussions. However, while these intrusions mainly serve a commercial purpose in times and areas of peace, they are far more nefarious in areas of conflict or polarized environments. For the civilians concerned, access to the internet and information or protection of personal data and geographical location are of critical and growing importance, in regard to the increasing disinformation and digital surveillance facilitated by new technologies such as biometrics and artificial intelligence.

In the situations these populations endure, these new and constantly evolving risks intensify the already omnipresent dangers of war, making the slightest decision crucial. As Philippe Stoll, the ICRC’s delegate for technological diplomacy and initiator of the project explains: "The aim is to raise public awareness of the impact of digital technologies in conflict situations — on humanitarian organizations and especially on civilians."

From New York to EPFL

Digital Dilemmas was first presented at the UN headquarters in New York in 2023 in collaboration with the Swiss Confederation. It was subsequently offered to the broader public as an online interactive audiovisual experience.
"People here can picture torture, they can imagine hunger. But the consequences of artificial intelligence are more subtle and less tangible" continues Philippe Stoll. "That’s why we wanted to create an environment where these new technologies could be understood and experienced."

Dr. Gregoire Castella, Head of the Humanitarian Division at EPFL EssentialTech Centre, adds: "These themes are aligned with the Engineering Humanitarian Action partnership we have with ICRC and ETH Zurich, so bringing this exhibition to EPFL was a logical extension."

Now presented as an immersive exhibition, Digital Dilemmas confronts visitors with these issues to highlight the vital importance of digital security in the context of humanitarian aid. Faced with the reality and urgency of these situations, one question emerges: What would you decide?

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