Examining Future Complexity
Mr. Bill Wimbish — Proteus Project Manager and a Senior Analyst for Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc.
Future National Security Challenges
As our Nation continues to deal with the aftermath of 9/11, the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), and subsequent supporting operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, it has become harshly apparent that we have entered a new age of complexity. Leaders are going back to the drawing board to rethink how we deal and cope with future challenges spawned by the age of knowledge. Technology has enabled our foes to adapt and attack the fabric of our fundamental values, beliefs and foundations which have made our nation the global power it is today. These new age threats have and will continue to be aimed at our vulnerabilities and seams. Using idiosyncratic methods and asymmetric techniques, super empowered groups and individuals are able to hide, adapt, and strike quickly, with precision.
The question for the future is: Have we learned to cope with uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity? In order to holistically analyze our vulnerabilities and identify these threats, we must determine systemic root causes of national security issues, applying solutions and developing strategies that can withstand the long term rigors of a complex interconnected world. We must understand “what is it we want to do and what we do not want to have happen.” But if we can’t repeat patterns, and if outcomes based on constant inputs are not constant, then how can we anticipate or predict what is on the future horizon?
Today the most elusive and complex phenomena is human thought, behavior and interactive social networks within the cognitive domain. We often perceive cognitive thought and resultant human actions to be irrational or illogical. However, what may seem irrational to us may be rational within a different context — a context based on different life experiences, social, cultural and religion norms or ideologies. Can we solve complex future issues based on a constantly spinning Meta Rubik’s Cube of discrete events, related or unrelated actions, and direct or indirect and constantly changing and morphing relationships among human actors across the different domains? The answer is a qualified yes.
The qualified yes can only be accomplished if future leaders, decision-makers and analysts within the Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational (JIIM) communities are taught “how” to think about future complexity versus “what” to think. Understanding that there are and will be discrete actors, hidden patterns and complex relationships within and among domains, the coin of the future realm will be the ability to bound, frame and solve problem sets holistically using a set of insights that identify the key characteristics of the environment, complex attributes and actions of actors.
The ten Proteus Insights (PI) developed from the 1999–2000 futures study sponsored by the National Reconnaissance Office provide such a bounding framework. The PIs are more than just catch phrases or buzz words. They provide a doctrinal outline on “how” to think holistically about the future geostrategic environment, its actors, relationships and patterns. The five Proteus “planes of influence,” which closely mirror the information age warfare domains, add additional resolution, but at the same time show the complexity of multiple planes, where actors are influenced or where they influence others. These ten insights point toward a new way of considering actions or unintentional consequences of strategic decisions: either commercial, diplomatic or military. These insights can be used as a set of lenses to view future issues through a different mindset, to consider issues through a different value set, and to think creatively, not traditionally. The PIs are applicable at all levels whether developing national security policy, conducting strategic intelligence or developing military theater security assistance or campaign plans at the operational level using all elements of national power: Diplomatic, Informational, Military and Economic (DIME).
The Protean Media is not a total panacea for gaming or modeling complexity; however, it establishes the foundation for others to build upon. It’s ultimate goal is to develop a “scalable variable wrapper, agent based interactive” experiential education, planning, and implementation game or tool that identifies cascading second and third order effects and unintended consequences in complex environments by incorporating the complex, temporal, and changing effects of human behavior/belief systems and socio-cultural dimensions across the “planes of influence.” To do this we must continue to integrate advances of R&D from gaming theory, human factors analysis, influence, perception, and cognitive modeling, and other complex nonlinear programming efforts to create the ultimate “paradoxal” game.
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