Monday, September 20, 2010

SENDS: Defining the Mission

By Carl Hunt

The rationale for SENDS appears in both the public and protected parts of the SENDS Substrate, so I won’t dwell on that here. The purpose of this initial blog entry is to try to concisely define the mission of the project consistent with discussions we’ve recently had with our government sponsors. We want to make sure all of us who support SENDS have a common mission statement in mind when we think about where SENDS is now and where it needs to go.

As we all know in military, government and business, it’s important to be clear about the challenges we face and the objectives we set before ourselves to overcome those challenges. That’s also a great tactic in applying the value of transdisciplinary perspectives that the study of Wicked Problems (WP) advises for us. More on applying those WP perspectives in upcoming blogs, however…

We proposed at the initiation of the Pilot Project in June, 2010, that Scientific Enhancements to Networked Domains and Secure Social Spaces (SENDS3, or interchangeably, SENDS) enhances cyberspace operations and defense through a collaborative, multidisciplinary, interagency approach that enforces the principles of science at its very core across the entire enterprise. This statement articulates the main ingredients of the mission, but it’s admittedly tough to “inspire the troops” with these kinds of words (and equally difficult to remember, as well!). We need something easy to say and easy to recall that reflects the core mission. In keeping with the real requirement of accomplishing the mission, we’ve started to say something like the following that gets the point across quickly (that is still open to refinement, by the way: feel free to help):

Harness the power of the cyberspace medium to orient users and developers to the challenges of cyberspace to produce a common understanding of the environment for maximum, harmonious exploitation of its connective potential.

There are many underlying requirements (often thought of as goals and objectives) that will support the accomplishment of this mission and we will discuss, argue and build on those requirements within the pages of the SENDS Substrate in coming months. Right now, it’s most important to state what we are trying to do and what the outcome of our efforts should look like. Plus, you can say this in an elevator and it fits easily on a cocktail napkin!

I should also add one point about the term “exploitation”. Unfortunately, because of the military setting in which both cyberspace and SENDS have originated, the word exploitation raises eyebrows, particularly among those familiar with military information operations (IO) disciplines. IO speaks to something called computer network operations that includes defense, exploitation and attack of adversary computer networks (spelled out in DoD’s Joint Publication 3-13). Exploitation in that sense includes tactics such as actions or intelligence collection techniques that gather and examine data from target or adversary information systems or networks. That is not what we mean in the context of defining the mission of SENDS.

SENDS is rooted in better understanding the complexity of networks, including social networks as empowered by computer-based systems. In complex systems theory, we talk about the differences between exploring complex systems and exploiting them. These are the images you should have in mind when we talk about “exploitation of (cyberspace’s) connective potential,” not the military definition related to computer network exploitation. Axelrod and Cohen in their fine book, Harnessing Complexity (Free Press, 1999), offer a detailed discussion of both exploration and exploitation in complex adaptive systems.

In SENDS, we want to emphasize the notion of maximizing the payoffs of what has already been learned in the exploration phase of searching for solutions (or resolutions in the sense of Wicked Problem theory). We intend to emphasize the value of both exploration and exploitation, but it is in the exploitation phase that we see the return on investments from our explorations.

So, we have the beginning of a mission statement, not without some controversy already, which helps us focus on what SENDS is and what we want to do with it. Welcome to the SENDS Substrate: stay tuned for more!

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