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Sean Gourley

Co-Founder and CTO, Quid


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LIVE CHAT With Sean Gourley: What are some of the lessons from war we can apply to other human endeavors? June 17, 2PM EDT

Live TED Conversation: Join TED Fellow Sean Gourley

Sean is a physicist and military theorist who is using data, maths and visualizations to help us understand the nature of modern war. He asks," What are some of the lessons from war we can apply to other human endeavors?"

This conversation will open at 2:00PM EDT, June 17th, 2011


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  • Jun 17 2011: There's more to it than just guerrilla warfare. Insurgency has changed a lot, and we see emergent group behaviors where classic military theory wouldn't have expected them. We can actually apply that to disaster relief efforts and situations, because the same kinds of behavioral groups emerge to deal with catastrophes.
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      Jun 17 2011: yes, interesting to think about the self organizing structure of human groups. How do we make connections, how do groups of unorganized individuals make decisions.

      How could we study this from places like post tsunami Japan? What would the right data be?
      • Jun 17 2011: the easy data is in the reach of the event - social media grouping around particular charity efforts, news and curation distribution, as well as blocks and limits found on the ground. I started looking at it from this perspective after Katrina. Things have changed substantially since then, but the self-organizing efforts and communication nets off of it are fruitful in considering any high-stress situation where good information is critical.
        • Jun 17 2011: I live in Christchurch, New Zealand (a city Sean is familiar with), which has become an area of active seismic activity since a magnitude 7.4 earthquake in Sept 2010. Over 7300 earthquakes and counting (including a pretty decent aftershock as I'm writing this).

          I believe we can learn from the success of insurgent groups to our situation in Christchurch.

          The government response to assessing homes and giving residents of the city a sense of certainty regarding the future has been slow and cumbersome - 'conventional'? In many ways it is the classic red-taped bureaucracy... too restricted by its own rules and regulations to adapt to the constantly changing/increasing needs of the community. There is an increasing sense of hopelessness and desperation here, and the lack of communication from government regarding the future of the city is rapidly creating anger.

          Compare this to the spontaneous creation of a group called the "Student Army". Thousands of students were called together and organised through social media. They were distributed each day with spades and wheelbarrows, to respond to areas of the city that were most in need. They were adaptable, effective, and are now a key part of the city's emergency response when we are hit again by larger aftershocks. The key organisers of the Student Army were sent to Japan post-tsunami, in order to provide advice and support to mobilise the student population there.

          Short chains-of-command, simple systems, adaptability, and autonomy within smaller groups - with a targetted focus and clearly defined outcomes - seem to be the hallmarks of a successful 'insurgent' response to disaster relief... it seems to be true here in Christchurch, anyway.
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        Jun 17 2011: Don't unorganized individuals who are successful actually create order out of chaos? Looking into what decisions were made and comparing what worked to what didn't might be a good jumping off point. The data might be hard to find though.
        • Jun 17 2011: What's interesting is that you can't tie it to individual decisions too closely. What works, spreads- what spreads, works. The key seems to be that people on the ground will emerge by doing something, very rapidly, almost no matter what it is.

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