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The Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention: Bringing Light to the Darkness

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The worst events tend to happen in the dark. There's a reason we avoid dark alleys, why we imagine horrible things lurking in the night. No one wants to live in a city without streetlights.

The very worst crimes - mass rape, mass killing, ethnic cleansing and genocide - also happen in the dark, in parts of the world obscured from view. The Syrian Government has tried to shut down the Internet, to stop the flow of information that would reveal how government forces are massacring civilians. The Sudanese Government has banned journalists from covering its brutal counter-insurgency campaign in the Nuba Mountains, where hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes. In the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both militias and government soldiers prey on people in remote, rural villages.

But now new technologies are marking it harder for perpetrators to hide their crimes, allowing the rest of us to peer into this darkness and giving victims in affected communities the tools to tell the world what's happening.

That's why Humanity United partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development last year to launch the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention . Our goal was to identify and help develop ideas to prevent and stop some of the world's most egregious human rights violations and, in so doing, we wanted to shine a new light on areas of the world that for too long have been hidden in the darkness.

The Tech Challenge creates a platform through which the broader technology community - developers, engineers and technologists worldwide - can help develop innovative solutions to some of the most intractable problems in the field of atrocity prevention.

In the most recent round of the Tech Challenge, we focused on two categories: "Communicate" sought out innovations that could help at-risk communities better communicate with the outside world, and "Alert" which called for tools that could help human rights organizations better gather and verify information from hard-to-access areas like Sudan and Syria in order to sound the alert when mass atrocities occur.

Participants from around the world submitted more than 280 ideas and innovations, and the quality and scope of these concepts astounded us. Many focus on increasing Internet access and improving mobile penetration in difficult environments. For instance, the first place winner in the Communicate challenge was the Serval Project, developed by Paul Gardner-Stephen and his team in Australia and New Zealand. The Serval Project creates software for smartphones that enables easy, private, stand-alone mobile communications that function even in the face of catastrophic infrastructure failure.

Similarly, one of the winning submissions from the Alert challenge was Thread, proposed by T. Annie Nguyen from New York City. Thread connects people online and offline in remote areas using mobile data-collection devices synched periodically with Wi-Fi stations. Verified users on the Thread platform can see, collect and track this information.

A full list of winners from the Communicate and Alert challenges - as well as the previous rounds of the Tech Challenge - are available here. Next, we will look at ways to help the winners pilot and potentially scale their ideas.

We understand that technology is not, by itself, a silver bullet. It's a tool, albeit a powerful one, that can help us shine a light into dark places, and make it easier to bring those who commit crimes to justice.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, Humanity United and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in recognition of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about The Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention, click here.