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DARPA, US Army seek 'social computing' tech

Not Deathbook/Facekill; more Asimov 'Psychohistory'

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The social computing phenomenon continues to spread, with news now emerging that Pentagon warboffins are commencing work on a military project entitled "Technologies for the Applications of Social Computing (TASC)" - meant to "support leadership decision making at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels".

But this is not Facebook-style social computing: it's more like gas dynamics for human beings.

The attempt to harness the awesome power of networked social interactions for the benefit of the US war machine comes, of course, from DARPA - the military research bureau so far beyond the bleeding edge it serves moon-on-a-stick as canapés.

The US warboffins seem to use the phrase "social computing" more to indicate a simulation or model than in the online-chumship sense. According to a request for whitepapers issued this week, the agency wants nothing less than a sort of automated, rigorous science of people-en-masse:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), invites ... the development of new technologies to rapidly create theoretically-informed, data-driven models of complex human, social, cultural, and behavioral dynamics that are instantiated in near-realtime simulations ... technologies of interest include the formalization and semantic representation of social science theories, the semantic integration of disparate types of social science data, techniques for analyzing these data, and efficient computational techniques for rapid data processing.

DARPA anticipates all these technologies would be integrated to develop a flexible, modular social simulation system that integrates sound social science theory with real world data, that facilitates a wide spectrum of military and intelligence applications, and that supports reliable, real-world decisions ...

They really should have called it Computer Psychohistory, it seems to us, rather than "social computing" - but perhaps nobody at IPTO has read Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, unlikely as that seems.

Meanwhile the regular US Army has also made a similar effort this week, handing out $2m to research engineers in Arizona. Professor Jerzy Rozenblit of Arizona Uni and his team will use this cash to develop software with similar Psychohistory-esque capabilities to those of the proposed TASC.

"I call it CPR, which in this case stands for conflict prediction and resolution," says Rozenblit. "Ultimately, these mathematical tools are intended to generate solutions that give us equilibrium, or status quo solutions."

According to the university's PR department:

It is compelling to imagine what the world look like today had such software been available during historical asymmetric conflicts, such as between the Greeks and Persians at Thermopylae, or the Rebels and British during the Revolutionary War ... this project is entering the realm of science fiction ... [the software's] potential spreads far beyond the limits of defense ... into the financial world, for example ...

Or indeed into establishing political hegemony over the entire human race. Fortunately projects like this seldom really work. Pesky free will or Heisenberg or something gumming up the works, maybe. ®

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