University of Arizona (UA) Prof Jerzy Rozenblit has received a $2.2m grant to design computer software that can analyse volatile political and military situations.
The software will predict the actions of paramilitary groups, ethnic factions, terrorists and criminal groups, while aiding commanders in devising strategies for stabilising areas before, during and after conflicts.
The Asymmetric Threat Response and Analysis Project, known as ATRAP, is a complex set of computer algorithms that sift through millions of pieces of data, considering many factors including social, political, cultural, military and media influences, said Rozenblit, who holds the Raymond J. Oglethorpe Endowed Chair in the electrical and computer engineering department at the UA.
The software can handle data loads that would overwhelm human analysts, while dispassionately exploring actions and behaviours based solely on the data, sidestepping human cultural biases that might prematurely rule out unorthodox or seemingly bizarre courses of action.
ATRAP will use sophisticated computational methods based on game theory, co-evolution and genetic algorithms.
Genetic algorithms analyse situations in an evolutionary context, where actions with the highest “fitness factor” (chance of achieving the greatest success) gravitate toward one another, produce offspring and eventually rise to the top.
Co-evolutionary algorithms analyse how the actions of one group affect the other groups and how those other groups adapt, or co-evolve, in response to the changing situation. For instance, if one group becomes more influential in an area where ethnic factions are vying for supremacy, the other groups will respond in ways that will try to make that first faction less influential, Rozenblit said.
The algorithms are designed to recognise links and patterns within data and to find connections, much as an investigative reporter might do when examining financial records – but on a vastly more complex and detailed scale.
‘The computer can look at very, very complex data sets that as an individual, or even as a group of individuals, you could never analyse,’ said Brian Ten Eyck, ATRAP project manager and associate director for research support in the electrical and computer engineering department. ‘The computer can bring the patterns and connections to the surface and can predict scenarios that might never occur to human analysts.’
Ultimately, the software program will be designed to display data in graphical, 3D and other forms that can be quickly grasped, allowing decision makers to rapidly respond to changing situations, Rozenblit said.
Rozenblit plans to outsource some parts of the project to local contractors because the UA part of the research doesn’t involve working with classified data. “There’s nothing about our part of the project that’s classified,” Rozenblit said. ‘We’re an open, academic institution and it’s difficult for us to be involved in classified work. So we need contractors to handle the classified parts of the project.’
The ATRAP software is being developed in collaboration with the Army Battle Command Battle Laboratory at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona.
While ATRAP can also address many complex, non-military situations that require analysis of complex data and balancing the desires of competing factions, its military application is equally concerned with conflict avoidance.
‘The goal is to handle conflict areas in a manner that leads to stability and support so war is not necessary,’ Rozenblit said. ‘That’s the philosophy behind much of the ATRAP effort.’