AI systems: Understanding and controlling religious conflict

AI systems: Understanding and controlling religious conflict

Religious conflictAI systems: Understanding and controlling religious conflict


Published 9 November 2018

Artificial intelligence can help us to better understand the causes of religious violence and to potentially control it, according to a new research. The study is one of the first to be published that uses psychologically realistic AI – as opposed to machine learning.



Artificial intelligence can help us to better understand the causes of religious violence and to potentially control it, according to a new Oxford University collaboration. The study is one of the first to be published that uses psychologically realistic AI – as opposed to machine learning.


The research published in the Journal for Artificial Societies and Social Stimulation, combines computer modelling and cognitive psychology to create an AI system able to mimic human religiosity. An approach which allows for better understanding of the conditions, triggers and patterns for religious violence.


Oxford says that the study is built around the question of whether people are naturally violent, or if factors such as religion can cause xenophobic tension and anxiety between different groups, that may or may not lead to violence?


The findings reveal that people are a peaceful species by nature. Even in times of crisis, such as natural disasters, people tend to bond and come together. However, in a wide range of contexts they are willing to endorse violence - particularly when others go against the core beliefs which define their identity.


Conducted by a cohort of researchers from universities including Oxford, Boston University and the University of Agder, Norway, the paper does not explicitly simulate violence, but, instead focuses on the conditions that enabled two specific periods of xenophobic social anxiety, that then escalated to extreme physical violence.


Justin Lane, a DPhil student in the Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology, who is a co-author on the work, and led the design of the model used and data collection, said: ‘Religious violence is not our default behavior – in fact it is pretty rare in our history.’


Although the research focuses on specific historic events, the findings can be applied to any occurrence of religious violence, and used to understand the motivations behind it. Particularly events of radicalised Islam, when people’s patriotic identity conflicts with their religions one, e.g. the Boston bombing and London terror attacks. The team hope that the results can be used to support governments to address and prevent social conflict and terrorism.