By Reg Ledesma
After an expansive career in peace building and reconciliation, Branka Panic MIDP ‘19 founded AI for Peace, a global organization based in San Francisco. True to its name, she describes the work as “using artificial intelligence to create lasting peace, security, and sustainable development.”
Originally from Europe, Panic started her career at the Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe; here she worked on “strengthening peace, democracy, and human rights.” The Stability Pact provided a framework to stimulate regional co-operation and expedite integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures.
The Balkans, region where I came from, was affected by wars, conflicts, and violence,” she explains. These early first-hand experiences with war motivated her interest in peace building.
Panic spent eight years at the European Fund for the Balkans (EFB), designing and implementing initiatives focused on strengthening peace, democracy, and human rights. She also earned a master of international security during that time.
Panic was selected for the prestigious Rotary Peace Center Fellowship, a full tuition fellowship, to study at the mid-career professionals program at Duke University.
“I learned a lot at Duke, especially from all the students and their diverse experiences,” Panic said. She spent two years at Duke in the MIDP program.
"Professor Catherine Admay was an important mentor for me. I took three classes with her,” Panic said.
One of these classes was Strategic Storytelling: Narratives for Development, tapping into the growing evidence that the distinctive way humans think is in story. The class used a broad array of storytelling mediums, to track how stories told about poverty or development strategically can add to our ability to understand poverty and to conduct appropriate development policies more effectively accordingly.
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Branka Panic MIDP'19 at the Rotary World Peace Conference 2020
Branka Panic MIDP'19 is the founder of AI for Peace. Here she is at the Rotary World Peace Conference in 2020.
After her first year at Duke, Panic spent the summer as a consultant at the World Bank. She worked on projects led by the Fragility, Conflict, & Violence section within the organization. The goal of this section of the World Bank is to: “end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity.”
She began to see the connections between technology, and democracy, and human rights. In 2019, Panic founded AI for Peace. It is a think tank and community of AI and field experts committed to using AI for creating lasting peace.
“The vision of the organization is a future where diverse voices influence the creation of AI and related technologies,” Panic explains.
Artificial intelligence has the ability to change the lives of everyone in the next decade, she says. On one hand, artificial intelligence can be a conduit for good, improving lives and welfare. The organization focuses on humanitarian action, human rights and democracy, and human security. On the other hand, it can lead to unintended negative consequences.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we created the AI Policy Pandemic Challenge,” Panic says. “It was created with the most vulnerable in mind, to minimize economic suffering and protecting the health of these communities.”
More than 70 artificial intelligence and policy experts, from 21 countries on six continents were involved with the challenge. This diverse group worked together to create AI models that showed the impacts of pandemic policies on the economic health of marginalized and impoverished communities.
“We are on a mission to make that impact peaceful and beneficial for all humanity. Our imperative is to make sure AI technology is used only for good and only for peace,” Panic says.
Read Branka Panic’s blog post about the IA Pandemic Challenge.
Find out more about her work on this Women in AI podcast.