Virtual Terror Networks

This entry could also have been titled either "weird science" or "your tax dollars at work."

The folks at Secrecy News have posted the following article from Los Alamos Science -- a journal published by the National Lab at Los Alamos:

"Understanding Why -- Dissecting Radical Islamist Terrorism with Agent-Based Simulation" by Edward P. MacKerrow, Los Alamos Science, Number 28, 2003 (1.5 MB PDF file):

http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/doe/lanl/pubs/las28/why.pdf

According to the article:

"The Complex Systems Group at Los Alamos has been examining questions related to the "why" behind terrorist organizations in the Middle East. Borrowing tools from the field of computational economics and sociology, we are developing agent-based models that simulate social networks and the spread of social grievances within those networks."

a little further down it says:

"We can expose our agents to a variety of determinents-- new government policies, different media exposure, economic pressures, and others--and quickly generate hundreds of new scenarios. Thus, we can conduct computational experiments that can be analyzed statistically and objectively to increase our insight, support decision making, and aid policymakers."

I honestly don't believe myself to be a luddite -- I am blogging, after all -- but I find the idea of making real world policy based on a computer simulation of human behavior frightening. It seems like many variables are beyond measuring to be useful.

The Los Alamos author does say that he doesn't intend to PREDICT terrorist activity, only to analyze scenarios. If his product is taking serious by decision makers, I'm not sure they'll keep that distinction.

On a lighter note, we got our snow, about two inches worth. Supposedly will turn to rain later today.

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