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Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.

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Is crowdsourcing to help solve military conflicts a good idea or just desperate?

There is an online game starting Monday, hosted at the Naval Postgraduate School, to evaluate the use of crowdsourcing for different scenarios. To start, they will present a constructed, high-tension scenario involving piracy and US-China tensions. I actually have three related questions toward understanding the implications of this kind of project. (//mmowgli.nps.edu/mmowgli)

Do you think this is a sign of a military in touch with leading edge developments and engaged in forward thinking, or is it a sign of a military whose training is behind the times and therefore desperate to draw in creative problem solving from people outside the military?

Do you think the ratio of gold nuggets to dirt can be high enough to merit the time it takes to sort through suggestions?

Do you think projects like this will have a higher effect of militarizing the consciousness of civilians or will it help to create non-military alternatives thereby peace-ifying the military mindset?

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    May 16 2011: This really is a very fascinating concept. It seems to me that all of these questions have to do with the delicate balance between military transparency and military secrecy.

    On the first question; based on how the U.S. military has handled insurgencies in the Middle East, we can conclude that at the very least the armed forces are somewhat disorganized, fairly lethargic and generally uncomfortable with asymmetric warfare. It was only a few years ago when Petraeus began making progress without force in the north. It seems that the military has lost touch with the ancient military principles that define warfare, but at the same it has failed to evolve past the warfare norm of World War II. I welcome any and all innovative ideas coming out of the U.S. military, though I sometimes wonder whether or not these innovations will ever be adopted.

    On the second question; it seems to me that this really has to do with the balance I mentioned above. Internal military analysis or analysis from a dedicated think-tank is valuable because these institutions are able to use the full spectrum of intelligence to make a thorough conclusion. There are a couple possible approaches the military can take with the crowdsourcing. They could censor and redact the hell out of the intelligence, which would protect the integrity of the operations in question, but it would likely produce a lot of dirt. They could do the opposite, but this would have the opposite effect. The crowd sourcing would most likely produce static and one-sided conclusions. It could also produce broad concepts, but both would have to be painstakingly vetted and adapted by the military.

    The final question is a bit tougher and I really don't know what might happen. But the idea of peaceful alternatives is very appealing!
  • May 11 2011: Fascinating concept and questions.

    I try to avoid judging the military mindset. But considering that they did a lot of work on "remote viewing" (psychic espionage) in the past and may still be doing it, I think they're like any organization that has too much money and too little oversight, and they try nutty things from time to time, just to see what happens. Sometimes those nutty things pay off. This sounds like one of those.

    I'm going to guess that trying to answer the second question is one of the main purposes of this game. Researchers are really fascinated right now with both cooperative strategies, and the emergence of large-scale order from simple small-scale rules. If the result is merely a lot of worthless suggestions from the masses collected in the hopes that there might be a few gold nuggets in there (and that the reviewers will actually recognize or accept the nugget as gold when they see it, which is even less likely), this will probably be the last such game.

    I play video games like Halo, and I don't think it's had much effect in terms of "militarizing" my mindset. In the real world, my first instinct isn't to pull out my BFG9000 and blow someone away. I might be a little quicker to duck if something with tentacles shot blaster bolts at me in a Hilton Hotel, rather than just standing there with my mouth open. Then again, I might start reaching for the X button.

    I think it might militarize the public mindset by providing yet another biased source of information. They aren't going to simulate foreign exchange student programs. They're going to model potential military conflicts. So people will start to think of China as a threat, just like they currently (still) think of New York City as a den of muggers and rapists.