Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Avoiding Technology Surprise for Tomorrow's Warfighter

Avoiding Technology Surprise for Tomorrow's Warfighter, by Admiral James R. Hogg
In: Avoiding Technology Surprise for Tomorrow's Warfighter--Symposium 2010. Committee for the Symposium on Avoiding Technology Surprise for Tomorrow's Warfighter--2010; Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences; National Research Council
December 10, 2010

I think we can agree that [avoiding technology surprise] is a terrific objective and an enormous challenge, both in importance and complexity. Especially so, given that we know little about avoiding Technology Surprise today, no matter how hard we try, let alone tomorrow. Yet, more so than others, this group is composed in a way that gives it a chance. We have here today Warfighters, Technologists, and Intelligence experts, joined together.

Among you, we need linguists. Linguists who understand the cultures of the ethnic groups whose languages they translate. So, a show of hands, please. How many of you are culturallyaware linguists in the Muslim or Asian languages and dialects? Numbers are small. That's no surprise! And that explains a fundamental weakness in our Western approach to problem solving.

I say that because we will only be able to avoid Technology Surprise by thinking differently than what I will call the "Western norm." We will only do it by thinking the way a Muslim or an Asian thinks, not the way we in the West "think they think.”

If we can't figure out how to get inside, way inside, their cultural mind-sets, then for sure, we will not recognize Technology Surprise until it is too late. For example, how many of us in this room ever thought a large commercial passenger jet aircraft could generate Technology Surprise? Probably none of us. Let's just say few, if any. Why? Simply because Technology Surprise is generated by two things: disruptive technology and disruptive thinking or, even more challenging, a combination of the two!

I am going to focus now on disruptive thinking, because nations or radical groups that are incapable of developing disruptive technology will continue to "take us to the edge" through disruptive thinking. It goes like this: We in the West, in the main, tend to solve problems in a deductive manner, with precision, definition, and rule sets. This is prevalent among engineers, for example, who are taught to "bound" problems in order to define and then more easily solve them. That makes sense.

Muslims and Asians, on the other hand, tend to approach problems in an inductive manner.  With logic, based on ethnic and cultural beliefs, and without rule sets as we understand them. No rules. Anything goes! This inductive approach is amenable to continuous exploration. It is not bound by anything—in any way, in any dimension.

A rationale conclusion is that a combination of the two is the best approach. To think inductively at first for exploration and discovery; then, to think deductively in order to come up with practical solutions. This sets up a balance between the open space that spawns creative thinking, and the defined space that enables construction of solutions.

So, with all this in mind, and returning to the challenge of avoiding Technology Surprise, there is no immediate solution, but there is a way ahead. Every significant military command needs an "innovation cell" dedicated full-time to an inductive-deductive thinking process that is focused like a laser on Technology Surprise. By that, I mean Technology Surprise that might be generated by either disruptive technology or disruptive thinking. The composition of these innovation cells must be diverse in every possible way, including language and cultural skills. In addition, they must be netted, each a node in a DoD-wide web, ensuring seamless information flow and collaboration.

Over time, similar webs should be established in the Departments of State and Homeland Security, and across all agencies in the National Intelligence Directorate [Office of the Director of National Intelligence]. Let's call this approach "Deep Red" for now. It’s a new way to organize, to think, to analyze, and to collaborate in order to anticipate and counter Technology Surprise during its developing stage and, absolutely, before its deployment.

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