Prof. Dr. Alex Glaser

Digital Peace-building

Professor Alexander Glaser from Princeton University, USA, was a visiting scholar at the Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF) from summer 2020 to July 2022. His research involves technical and policy analysis in the context of international security, particularly in the context of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Glaser describes his research as "science-oriented peace research." Interdisciplinary work is the "gold standard" for him: "The different perspectives of the various disciplines often result in unexpected opportunities that would not have arisen in this way on their own. That's exactly what's happening at the ECDF: different disciplines with different perspectives on the big topic of digitization."

Glaser grew up in Germany, but has now lived in the U.S. for more than 15 years. After graduating with a degree in physics, he earned his doctorate at Darmstadt Technical University. While still in Darmstadt, he was part of IANUS, an interdisciplinary working group for peace research in the natural sciences and engineering at Darmstadt Technical University. Since 2005, he has been conducting research at the renowned Princeton University (USA) - initially as a research associate and junior professor. Since 2009, Glaser has been a professor of mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering and international affairs, as well as since 2016 co-director of the Science & Global Security program. 

"My research is often about technology design and technology assessment: looking at developments in science and technology and the societal developments that accompany them. One big topic is the verification of international treaties, which often involves tricky decision-making situations, similar to situations in game theory: how can we verify that a state is actually disarming nuclear weapons without having to reveal the technical secrets?", explains Alexander Glaser. In 2014, Glaser was named one of Foreign Policy magazine's "100 Leading Global Thinkers" for his work on this topic.

During his time at the ECDF, Glaser delved deeper into the peace-building potential of digitization. One question is how and whether new digital technologies can make a significant contribution to verification and monitoring, especially with the help of novel sensors and, ideally, with the active participation of the public ("Open Citizen Science"). Two other projects deal with the possibilities of virtual reality (VR). Here, experts and government employees can develop procedures for inspections and test them virtually using novel technologies and instruments. Thanks to the virtual environment, scientific and abstract processes become more accessible. Glaser has offered a seminar on this topic at the TU Berlin in the winter semester 2020/2021 together with the "Quality & Usability Lab". As part of the work, a VR documentary is currently being created, which is supported by Arte and others and should be completed by 2022 - thanks to virtual reality, viewers are right in the middle of it. 

In addition, Glaser is working with other scientists to develop concepts of "nuclear archaeology" to document and preserve the history of nuclear facilities. Both analog records and digital data in a wide variety of formats - often more than fifty years old - play an essential role. The crucial question is how to guarantee the origin of this data and establish confidence in its authenticity: "We hope that this will make it easier to trace how much radioactive material was mined or produced at specific sites in the past. Currently, this is almost impossible to accomplish." Nuclear archaeology should provide clarity about material that exists today and help to ensure that a nuclear-weapon-free world can also be convincingly verified.