Will the future of warfare have statistics and rewards similar to those in video games such as Battlefield 3? CREDIT: EA
I’ve written about the U.S. military and its intersections with video games before. So I was intrigued when I read this Army News story about a U.S. Army engineer’s dream of implementing real-life tracking of weapons performance to provide useful data for understanding weapon usage and failure — an idea inspired by how gaming companies can track video game elements and players. Of course, it’s much easier to come up with statistics for how effectively a weapon worked in a virtual game world than in real life, so the challenge is to come up with the right mix of software and hardware to collect data from Army weapon systems without burdening soldiers with added loads or procedures.
David Musgrave, a manager at the U.S. Army’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, graciously agreed to my interview request for my story. He also raised a possibly more intriguing possibility of real-world weapons tracking leading to real-world tracking of soldier performance, and then using the collected data to “gamify” the battlefield so that U.S. soldiers could see their own statistics in driving without wasting fuel or destroying enemy vehicles. Soldiers could even compare themselves to their units or the entire Army and receive the same motivational drive and satisfaction that they do in games — a way of channeling the same “energy and pride that goes into climbing the rankings of ‘Call of Duty’ multiplayer,” Musgrave said.
You can probably see the possible pitfalls to the gamification approach. Tracking weapon and soldier efficiency is one thing, but using the stats as game-like incentives raises the thorny issue of turning battlefields into game-like environments that cheapen the value of human life — just imagine the added competition to rack up kills on enemy aircraft, vehicles or soldiers (though I’m pretty sure the U.S. military would stop well short of that approach).
I didn’t take the time to reflect upon this more until after I had posted the story. And I’ve since concluded that I did readers a disservice by not following up on that idea with Musgrave to tease out a more complete view on that subject, or at least getting another opinion. But perhaps that’s a lesson or opportunity for future exploration of the topic.
For now, you can hear an interesting reaction to story from a gamer podcast called the Strongcast.
I’m still writing a trickle of stories left over from the AIAA Space 2012 conference I attended, including this one about the U.S. military’s vision for reusable rockets and space planes that fly back to land neatly on airport runways. As always, much of the problem comes down to budget cuts and program cancellations … but a space geek can still dream.
Predicting suicide … and maybe murder
I dug up several DARPA special notices about a program aimed at better predicting suicidal behavior among individual soldiers. An earlier notice also suggested that the idea could similarly apply to homicidal behavior. I asked two experts to dissect the possible pitfalls and benefits of predicting suicide, murder or murder-suicide.
In an unhappy coincidence, the news today was filled with reports of Fox News airing live footage of a car chase that ended in the driver shooting himself in the head (not the first airing of a live shooting this year for LA TV viewers, according to the LA Weekly), as well as reports on the aftermath of a murder-suicide shooting spree in Minneapolis.