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Dr. Ori Swed

I am a political sociologist and an organization scholar. I am interested in the role of organizations from a global perspective, especially as it relates to peace and war and human security issues. My work assumes a broad perspective that cuts across sub-sections within sociological research. Guided by overarching themes my work traverses between the macro and micro as I try to define contemporary social phenomena from the bottom up.


In my work, I study the role of organizations in human security and the privatization of aid and security. I also look at the relations between technology and organizations and how they utilized in security and conflict settings. 


Check Out Our Research at the Peace,War,& Social Conflict Laboratory


Between Scylla and Charybdis:  The Threat of Democratized Artificial Intelligence

As artificial intelligence (AI) advances, speculations on its implications run parallel, sometimes rampant. On one side, alarmists foresee a technological singularity as AI outstrips human intelligence. Their focus on locating the event horizon, where tools designed to bring a better future turn against us, precludes the ability to identify tangible, relevant threats. On the other side, scholars and analysts tend to trail behind the staggering speed of development. Called cultural lag, the deliberate pace of theoretical reflection is out of sync with the rapid pace of proliferation, leading to under- and misanalysis. Steering between the Scylla of doomsday scripts and the Charybdis of cultural lag, we identify and discuss the threat of violent nonstate actors (VNSAs) exploiting advanced and democratized AI technologies to commit terrorist attacks. The customary concerns about VNSAs acquiring nuclear, chemical, and biological weaponization capacities have not come to fruition despite how fitting they are for violent agendas. Conversely, seemingly benign technologies such as satellite maps and social media have become quite instrumental in the success of VNSA activity. We posit that what determines VNSA adoption and innovation is the confluence of advanced and democratized technologies. The former feature mitigates the necessity of complex engineering efforts and lowers the technical capacity requisite. The latter introduces the dual-use dilemma, removing barriers to access that regulated technologies inhibit. Using these two elements as predictive crosshairs, we analyze three potential threats becoming available to VNSAs as AI evolves: self-driving cars, internet bots, and 3D printing. Our study contributes a sensible and shrewd approach to threat analysis in the dynamic world of AI development.

The Corporate War Dead: 
Demographics of American and British Contractor Fatalities, 2003-2016

From an obscure sector synonymous with mercenaryism, the private military and security industry has grown to become a significant complementing instrument in military operations. This rise has brought with it considerable attention. Researchers have examined the role of private military and security companies in international relations as well as the history of these companies, and, above all, the legal implications of their use in place of military organizations. As research progresses, a significant gap has become clear. Only a handful of studies have addressed the complex of issues associated with contractors’ demographics and lived experience. This paper sheds some light over this lacuna, examining contractors’ demographics using descriptive statistics from an original dataset of American and British contractors who died in Iraq between the years 2003-2016. The paper augments our understanding of an important population of post-Fordist contracted workforce, those peripheral workers supplementing military activity in high-risk occupations with uncertain long-term outcomes.

Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work

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