'War Games' revisited

"Would you like to play a game?"

That was the question voiced by the mega-computer in the 1983 movie "War Games," in which Matthew Broderick played a computer whiz kid who hacks into a military computer to play global thermonuclear war.

The movie itself is a far-fetched Hollywood thriller, of course, in which the computer confuses the game with reality and actually attempts to take control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Yet Defense Department officials may be looking to such computer whiz kids — and the commercial video game industry — to advance how the Pentagon wages war games.

Owen Wormser, principal director for spectrum, space, sensors and command, control and communications in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, said recently that DOD officials are looking at the collaborative war games played over the Internet — sometimes involving thousands of people around the world — because they do what DOD needs to do: coordinate large numbers of people scattered around the globe.

"We're watching the gaming industry very closely," said Navy Capt. Michael Lilienthal, director of the Defense Modeling and Simulation Office in Alexandria, Va.

Online war games effectively have set up teams located in diverse places that can work as a single unit, Lilienthal said.

"We need to be aware of what they are doing," he said, and use the work already being done by the gaming industry to DOD's benefit.

War games are not yet like the movie, however, said Kenneth Watman, chairman of the war gaming department at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. In "War Games," the computer was the enemy. But that is not possible now, he said.

"Computers might be used to help draw people out," he said, "but they are never used as artificial intelligence."

So although computers may be used to formulate a simulation of war, machines are not yet able to re-create the nuances that humans can bring to waging war.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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