Afghan villagers (Army Photo Credit: Sgt. Benjamin Watson)

DARPA's Habitus to give outsiders an insider's view

Military operational decision-makers sometimes find themselves in unfamiliar environments where they don't understand the region's cultural elements -- everything from terrain and industries to population distribution, shared history, formal and informal power structures, religion and ethnicity. Establishing stability and influencing a community's systems requires insight into local politics, health care, infrastructure and socioeconomic relationships.

To support these leaders, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to develop models of the implicit, detailed, collective understanding local residents have of how cultural systems work.

Current approaches, such as tapping subject matter experts, polling and big data solutions, are often unable to interpret data through a local lens, not specific enough to inform decision-making or incapable of generalizing insights to other areas.

The Habitus program, however, aims to provide outsiders with an insider's view to support operational decision-making by gathering insights from the local population in new ways and developing predictive models of local systems based on that awareness.  The models must be specific enough to anticipate system-level responses to local events, but scalable and adaptable across regions and populations. DARPA also envisions Habitus will be self-sustaining, meaning it would be maintained with few resources.

In its proposers day announcement, DARPA said that any single cognitive model is likely to fall short of the program's goal, but added that "recent advances in participatory science and modeling have demonstrated that collective local understandings can provide more accurate estimations of future system outcomes than experts and other state of the art methods."

The Habitus proposers day will be held Feb. 10, and the event will be webcast for those who would like to participate remotely. A broad agency announcement is expected to be issued later in February.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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