Stronger security through video games

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 @ 05:04 PM gHale


Improved video game graphics along with advances in computerized modeling and being able to predict group behavior are making possible virtual worlds in which defense analysts can explore and predict results of possible military and policy actions.

“Defense analysts can understand the repercussions of their proposed recommendations for policy options or military actions by interacting with a virtual world environment. . . . They can propose a policy option and walk skeptical commanders through a virtual world where the commander can literally ‘see’ how things might play out. This process gives the commander a view of the most likely strengths and weaknesses of any particular course of action,” wrote V.S. Subrahmanian, a University of Maryland computer science professor and director of the University’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), and John Dickerson, a UMIACS computer science researcher in a paper on the subject.

Computer scientists now know pretty much how to do this, and have created a “pretty good chunk” of the computing theory and software required to build a virtual Afghanistan, Pakistan or another “world,” said Subrahmanian.

“Human analysts, with their real world knowledge and experience, will be essential partners in taking us the rest of the way in building these digital worlds and, then, in using them to predict courses of action most likely to build peace and security in Afghanistan and elsewhere,” said Subrahmanian.

Subrahmanian and Dickerson said researchers at Maryland developed computing pieces critical to building virtual worlds. These include stochastic opponent modeling agents (SOMA) – artificial intelligence software that uses data about past behavior of groups in order to create rules about the probability of that group various actions in different situations; “cultural islands,” which provide a virtual world representation of a real-world environment or terrain, populated with characters from that part of the world who behave in accordance with a behavioral model; and forecasting “engines” CONVEX and CAPE, which focus on predicting behavioral changes in groups based on validated and historical data.

“U.S. defense analysts can use such virtual worlds to interact with models of the behaviors of these groups and understand how certain actions they might take will affect the short-term and long-term behaviors of these groups,” Subrahmanian said. “At any given point in time, the game has a ‘state’ describing, for instance, the situation in a town. When U.S. forces or a local government take actions such as opposing a local leader, that state is altered. A group may react in one of several ways in accordance with a [mathematically-based] probability distribution.”

“We are now at the point where, with the help of the analysts, we can start thinking about building computer-generated models that can automatically adapt to changes in group behaviors and to conditions on the ground,” Subrahmanian said.



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