Serious as it is, the cyber ping-ponging between America and North Korea seems futile. As with most technological wars, nobody really wins. There is always something newer and better just around the corner. Technologies tend to get more sophisticated over time, and as with the history of most weapons — from spears to munitions, from bullets to nuclear missiles — much depends on the aims of the user. A key stroke is not inherently dangerous, unless a dangerous human being presses it.

So what if we envision a world of 2015 in which information technologies become agents of peace instead of sources of conflict? In many ways, we are already on that path, but the efforts are episodic. We use satellite technology today to track the movement of refugees out of Syria and other global hot spots. We use smartphones to help victims of earthquakes and natural disasters find each other beneath rubble and across boundaries. We have early warning systems, reliant on technology, to see genocide coming. Hurricanes and tornadoes are visible from space before they hit the ground, thanks to good satellites with good imaging. Social media can bring peaceful protesters to the town square (or jihadists can use it to spread messages of hate). Again, it depends on the objective and the user.


Before we blame technology for everything that is wrong in the world, let's press the pause button. Maybe the time has come for a different kind of revolution — a revolution in peace technology. In some ways, that revolution is already underway, where we are putting innovation to use to prevent conflict, mitigate its effects, and rebuild societies in ways that reward entrepreneurship by focusing on the use of computers and cellular technology to bring mobile healthcare and education, monitor elections, deliver data to farmers, predict weather patterns and end poverty. We are seeing digital networks utilized on an unprecedented scale, but the efforts seem haphazard and disconnected.

What is missing is coherence around the effort to use technology in a positive, peaceful way. There seems to be no master plan by the U.S. and its allies to advance security by leveraging tech sectors to further democracy — not just responding to enemies of it. Illiberal, authoritarian regimes and actors are getting better at using technology to spread hate. Our response should be to empower citizens with the technology to increase wealth, education, information, employment and human security.

Securing our cyberspace is, undoubtedly important. Sony should not be easy to hack. Countries and companies need to protect citizens from unlawful theft of intellectual property. Our critical infrastructure like electricity grids, financial systems and transportation networks must be safe from computer failures, intended or not. And North Korea should be punished for any attempt to use technology to deprive others of their livelihoods.

But let's not fall into simple cycles of reaction. Let's encourage the use of cyber smarts around the world for positive and proactive ends. Let's pressure governments, nongovernmental organizations and technology firms to form partnerships to advance the positive use of technology for peacemaking and peacebuilding.

We can build higher walls or better mousetraps, but it won't stop every intruder (and mice will still come). Part of the solution lies in getting ahead of conflicts and arming citizens with the best engineering and technological prowess and the human capacity to solve social, political, economic and environmental problems through the marriage of technology and peace. That would be a truly positive New Year's resolution.

Sonenshine is former under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs. She is also on the board of PeaceTech Lab, Inc.