Hard at work deep in the reality mines

Those who read my story “Ishin” in The Shine Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction might be interested in this piece by Noah Schachtman over at the Wired Danger Room blog. What I like about this piece is that it exposes how important research framing is to actual research — you have to decide what kind of metrics you’d like to read before even conducting the experiment. It’s also outlines how DARPA projects get funding, and how little DARPA can actually have to do with the administration of individual projects that contribute to the larger goal. The infrastructure surrounding and enabling an innovation is sometimes just as important as the innovation itself. Even if that innovation doesn’t appear to work just yet.

Instead of using all those eyes in the sky and reports from the ground to hunt for the proverbial needle in the haystack –- the lone insurgent in a large group of people –- Nexus 7 sometimes examines the makeup of the entire haystack. Of everyone.

“Let’s take that God’s-eye view,” says one person familiar with the program. “Instead of tracking a car, why not track all cars?”

I also like this quote, which summarizes things pretty neatly while contextualizing the information within current events:

In Nexus 7, the geeks saw a chance to use their skills to do something a lot more important than find balloons. Kilcullen’s crew hoped to find those slippery counterinsurgency metrics that had eluded the military for so long. Maybe they’d even be able to prove empirically whether all that stuff they preached about winning hearts and minds was really true.

“It’s a big opportunity to test COIN [counterinsurgency] theory with as much data as you ever wanted,” one source familiar with the program says.

Step one was to dive into SIGACTS, the military database that contained accounts of nearly every firefight American troops fought. (The information later formed the bedrock of WikiLeaks’ “war logs.”)

Drizzled between the gun battles were occasional accounts of villages stabilized and town elders met. But, written as random notes, the accounts were hard to insert into a database. There was nothing consistent, nothing you could plot as a trend over time.

“These were intelligence reports, not measurable data,” the source says. “The population-centric information wasn’t to be found there.”

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