Taking intelligence analysis to the virtual world

Online virtual or synthetic worlds are increasingly being eyed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) as an potentially important tool for intelligence analysis.

For example, the ODNI’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) program is planning to begin a project called the Analysis WorkSpace for Exploitation (A-SpaceX) that will examine how virtual worlds can be used to create the workspace of future for analysts. In a separate effort, through ODNI’s Summer Hard Problem or SHARP program, roughly 30 people -- about half of whom were intelligence analysts – recently spent the summer studying virtual worlds.

The two efforts are examples of efforts by the ODNI to harness virtual or synthetic worlds, such as the one made popular by Second Life, to improve the 16-agency intelligence community’s analytic capabilities. In the past several years, ODNI has undertaken a series of efforts sought to use mass collaboration and so-called Web 2.0 tools to improve analysis. 

IARPA, which focuses on high-risk/high-payoff research, held an industry day in July on A-SpaceX which is anticipated to be a multi-phase, multimillion-dollar program.

A broad agency announcement is soon expected for the first phase of A-SpaceX which will seek to use and develop virtual worlds to explore how manipulating time frames and mapping decision processes can improve intelligence analysis. The first phase will last about 18 months.

During the first phase of project, officials hope to create a “Time Machine” virtual world through which they can explore how changes in chronology can affect analysis. They also hope to use virtual worlds to create “MindSnaps” that will allow an analysts to track and map out their decision processes in a virtual world.

Arthur Becker, who manages IARPA’s Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination project – a different IARPA project -- mentioned A-SpaceX as an example of some of the projects under way which use technology to transform the analytic environment. He was speaking on a panel today at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance’s Analytic Transformation 2008 conference in Orlando, Fla.

Becker said many of the IARPA’s research projects are in their initial phases and that IARPA is focused on research that generally yields results in three to five years.

Other efforts include the Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination project, which will aim to explore how analysts can use information technology to handle the large swaths of information that analysts typically receive. Another IARPA project in the works will aim to reduce costs by making computer code more easily available to developers, Becker said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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