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Bringing Big Data to War in Mega-Cities

DARPA Big Data

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 19 January 2016.

As the U.S. Army prepares for the future, it has become increasingly aware that operations are more and more likely to take place in large cities. The number and size of cities continues to grow, and they are quickly becoming the dominant form of human habitation. Belligerent actors, aware of the West’s growing anxieties about collateral damage, have good reason to place forces in or around cities. Further, advanced sensing and weapons systems employed by modern militaries make hiding in remote areas of the world less and less attractive to non-state enemies of advanced powers.

America’s enemies see the advantages of the seemingly impenetrable clutter that dominates the modern city. The Army’s current approach to learning about this environment is to seek the diamonds scattered amidst this clutter. What we are missing, though, is that the clutter itself is the jewel. Enormous amounts of readily available data can reveal more about a city, its population, and the nefarious actors residing there than we could have imagined before. To truly understand this environment the Army must fundamentally change its approach to understanding the environment: It must adopt a holistic approach enabled by big data analytics.

The Army, however, seems hesitant to embrace 21st-century data analysis, instead relying largely on the same micro-level methods it has used for decades.
This must change if the Army wishes to maintain the ability to “see first” and “understand first” in the modern urban arena.

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Big Data, ICTs and New Media in Times of Crisis

Photo: flickr/Michael Doherty

On March 28, the ISN hosted a Roundtable Discussion on “Big Data, ICTs and Social Media in Times of Crisis,” which featured Mr Sanjana Hattotuwa, who is both a TED Fellow and a Special Advisor to the ICT4Peace Foundation. Our purpose today is to share Mr Hattotuwa’s lively presentation, which among other things focuses on how web- and mobile-based media have enhanced our ability to respond to complex emergencies, and to participate in ‘organic’ political processes. The presentation is then augmented by the question and answer session that followed in its wake.

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