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Who's Talking?

Ultimately, successful communications, particularly in times of war, mean understanding the environment and the culture in which these events are taking place. Technology is playing a key role in the efforts to model and predict the behavior of enemies through the work of Dr. Barry G. Silverman at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Engineering. With a $1.4 million grant from the Department of Defense, Dr. Silverman is building computer models (with characters not unlike those in video games) that encompass the workings of the brain—including physiology, stress, and events factors. This three-year project was started before the 9/11 attacks, but has already provided training simulators for military personnel.

It has taken on added importance in the ensuing year.

In discussing the role of wireless communications during war with Dr. Silverman, I recalled a recent NPR broadcast, in which I heard the commentator jest in the aftermath of the Jose Padilla arrest: "Will Al Qaeda return to 'word-of-mouth' now that they realize we are monitoring their satellite communications?"

"That's exactly the type of question we are studying," Dr. Silverman remarked. "We look first to the individuals, and how they communicate under various levels of stressful conditions—from relative calm to panic. Knowing the triggers and the utilities—action decisions based on a set of values—can go a long way in responding to a military situation appropriately."

In modeling communications behavior to determine whether or not a group will use cell phones, we must understand the emotions involved in that decision, as well as options present in the situation.

Dr. Silverman adds that it's important not only to examine individuals, but also groups such as terrorist cells and crowd behavior, which have a marked influence on the leadership of many countries overseas. Dr. Silverman further states, "At present, the "artificial societies" working model simulates the changing political affiliations of a population in response to messages broadcast by the media, the government, and the terrorist organization. What we haven't done yet is to validate the behavior of the agents that live in our artificial society. So we aren't ready to claim this tool can be used for predictive studies yet; however, it does exist and can be used to help guide studies about what data to collect."

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