To Reach Afghans, Pentagon Drafts Mimes, Storytellers, Wizard of Oz
The Pentagon’s ultimate team of technologists is looking to looking to bridgethe cultural divide in Afghanistan — with storytelling, pantomime and the Wizard of Oz.
After nine years of conflict, the U.S. military is still having trouble finding common ground with warzone locals. One way to fill that breach, Darpa figures, is through “interactive stories.”
Counterinsurgency, in many ways, is a series of negotiations — over economic development, over security, over political power. And “negotiation,” Darpa explains in a new request for information, “is best served by a culturally-specific narrative that explains why we hold a position, how it relates to other parties, and how it affects all parties both positively and negatively.”
Darpa’s tales are part of a larger Defense Department push to get smarter about the battlefield’s “human terrain.” Teams of social scientists are now embedding with combat units; Pentagon-funded researchers are building computer models of how the societies of Afghanistan and Iraq work; military pollsters are trying to tap public opinion in the conflict zones.
To come up with its storytelling tools, Darpa’s Information Processing Technologies Office is hoping to go beyond its usual cadre of neuroscientists, artificial intelligence specialists, and gadgeteers. The agency also wants contributions from “art, literature, film, dance, games development, advertising and public relations, advertising, grass roots organizing, collective decision making or any other discipline for which the respondent can make an argument that the approach bears on this task.”
There will be some technology involved — this is Darpa, after all. But the agency is encouraging “very non-traditional approaches to this problem (e.g., a virtual tribal storyteller interacts with a human mime to produce a silent theater improvisation with audience participation).”
The “Negotiate Across Cultures” project will kick off with a two-day workshop. There, Darpa will hold a “mock competition” of potential researchers. But this won’t be a gizmo demo. Instead, the “participants will use a ‘Wizard of Oz’ approach to illustrate how each approach, if implemented, would operate on selected negotiation problems within specific socio-cultural environments. In the ‘Wizard of Oz’ approach, one or two human representatives of each participant team will listen to a problem description and manually act out the operation and structure of the tool using props they bring to the event.”
Get your props ready; the workshop is planned for late July or early August.
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HOLY FUCK! They are using WIZARD OF OZ CIA Programming. This CAN'T be good! #ProjectMonarch dammit.