When all else fails, read the enemy's mind

DARPA funds new "mind reading" software.

Every morning, generals across the world wake up and wonder what the enemy is thinking. Well, it depends: Are they "chicken" or "Rambo"?

That's the bottom line for a new DARPA-funded software program based on the child's game "Capture the Flag." The strategy-predicting software BEE (Behavioral Evolution and Extrapolation) is designed to anticipate enemy actions and deceptions--ideally in time to do something about them.


BEE works by replacing large numbers of combatants with digital avatars on a simulated battlefield, assigning them individual personalities (e.g., alive enemy, injured friendly), factoring in beliefs and desires, triggering an event (like an attack), then crunching the whole mess in a computational model of emotions (PDF) aggravated by combat stress, anger and fear. The end product is "adversarial intent."

If a unit avoids enemy contact and weapons fire, BEE pegs it as cowardly, or "chicken"; if it rushes in to mix it up, it's irritable, or "Rambo." Chicken units are easier to identify, according to program developer New Vectors, because they linger longer, even in cyberspace. Rambos, on the other hand, come and go--or, as New Vectors' Van Dyke Parunak put it, "The brave die young."

The idea that you can predict an enemy's moves based on past behavior is hardly news. But creating and "evolving" enemy behaviors based on past performance in virtual combat zones is innovate enough that New Vectors is patenting the technique.

Government and private industry already use variants of this program to streamline production and logistics, as well as to hone competitive business strategies. Readers may be familiar with it from multi-player computer games.

So put away your Clausewitz and Sun Tzu and never mind ol' sarge and his hunches; if you want to know the best way to take out those guys defending Hamburger Hill, just ask their avatar.