DARPA’s New Approach to Situational Awareness

Making sense of multiple flows of information is a continuing challenge in conflict early warning and early response; particularly vis-a-vis decision making. How can we make overall sense of conflict data originating from different sources? DARPA’s new approach is to turn warzone data into simple stories.

From Wired:

Drone feeds, informant tips, news reports, captured phone calls — sometimes, a battlefield commander gets so much information, it’s hard to make sense of it all. So the Pentagon’s far out research arm, Darpa, is looking to distill all that data into “a form that is more suitable for human consumption.” Namely, a story.

Making sense of a complex situation is like understanding a story; one must construct, impose and extract an interpretation. This interpretation weaves a commonly understood narrative into the information in a way that captures the basic interactions of characters and the dynamics of their motivations while filling in details not explicitly mentioned in the input stream. It uses story lines with which we all have experience as analogies, and it simplifies the detail in order to communicate the crucial aspects of a situation. The story lines it uses are those the decision maker should be reminded of, because they are similar to the current situation based upon what the decision maker is trying to do.

These stories, however, would be authored by artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms courtesy of Darpa’s Information Processing Technology Office. I’m sceptical of purely AI-driven solutions for obvious reasons. What caught my interest, rather, was the idea of story telling, i.e., a qualitative, narrative approach to conflict analysis and situational awareness that may overcome some of the cognitive biases that surface during decision-making processes.


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