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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: The Guerilla fighter doesn't adhere to rules per se, they do whatever it takes to get the job done.
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      Jun 17 2011: this is the general way that we tend to think about COIN operations - the irrational guerrilla fighter. Unpredictable, chaotic and noisy. Yet when we look at the data across different war zones we see that there are very predictable mathematical patterns. Rules are being followed - in doing 'whatever it takes to get the job done' the insurgent groups are coalescing around the same set of behaviors.
      • Jun 17 2011: An interesting way to think about the behavior is analogous to the difference between actual random distributions and what people think are random distributions - if you ask someone to draw a random assortment of dots on a page they're usually distributed pretty evenly around the page, whereas an actual randomly generated assortment of dots usually would have bunched up areas.

        If a group of insurgents think they're behaving "randomly" or unpredictably, it makes sense that ongoing insurgencies would have similar patterns much in the way people who think they're generating random dots on a page would have similar patterns.
      • Jun 17 2011: may still be chaotic - or at least seemingly chaotic, with power laws arising from interactions? wouldnt be the first time. So, "rules are being followed" may not be the proper idea, rather "similar motives" at least, through the military/operational lense. This may even be more or less constant across cultures and continents - my first, though not 100% correct comparison would be with global studies on altruistic behavior that, given a certain modeling framework, found quite similar patterns around the world. These regularities may even be reflected in the organizational structure / size distribution of differerent gurilla groups around the globe
    • Jun 17 2011: Crysallis - I don't mean to be contrary, but I don't believe Sun Tzu would necessarily agree with that assertion. The Art of War among many other things outlines rules and driving principals for managing conflict; especially in the context of being outnumbered. Kindly.
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        Jun 17 2011: from the Art of war - to the mathematics of war

        I wonder if we could start to codify Sun Tzu into a set of computational equations - or at least a set of testable hypothesis. We could run them on the data coming out of Afghanistan - see if Sun Tzu was correct?

        just a random thought
        • Jun 17 2011: would have to be a pretty high dimensional data set if sun tzu was to be reflected accurately, and a comparably small sample size. any more detailed thoughts?

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