Wednesday, November 17, 2010

SENDS and Sensibility

by Carl Hunt

Jane Austen’s novel, Sense and Sensibility, tells a story of rich, dynamic dealings among an interesting cross-representation of the people of late 18th Century English life. The successes and failures of the characters of the story, moderated by the emotions and realties of the time, are a microcosm of life even today.  The characters lived their lives through complex interactions basically devoid of technology yet ultimately made wise and “sensible” decisions about their lives that produced a relatively “happy ending.”

One almost wonders how they accomplished this without Facebook and Twitter.

Seeking an understanding of the sensibilities of how people interact, make decisions and take actions in the interconnected environment of cyberspace is a major objective of SENDS.  Emotion plays a significant role in how people relate in any social environment.  That’s a key distinction between human and machine interaction.

Machines don’t yet communicate well without a detailed “understanding” of the instructions they are passed through code, yet people often do.  Cyberspace in the current age is about people most of all, and how they communicate with each other.

In spite of misunderstandings, people still accomplish objectives and create relationships that frequently succeed.  Disasters do happen and even battles are fought over what began as emotional reaction, but so far humanity hasn’t ended because of misinterpreted or deceptive communications.  Humans seem to do okay.

Since emotion and sensibility so often drive human behavior, the question arises about how to model motivations and behaviors so that they can better inform simulations about network operations and defense.  To start coming to grips with this challenge, we introduced a SENDS approach previously in these blogs: SENDSim, the SENDS cyberspace modeling and simulation environment.

How we define and frame an environment such as cyberspace has a great deal to do with how we model it.  Bob Schapiro suggested several important considerations and challenges earlier this week.  If we define cyberspace solely as a battlefield environment, for example, our vocabulary reflects that bias, and the characteristics of the simulation agents we model might also inappropriately reflect such biases.

Department of Homeland Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute raised the challenge of properly defining cyberspace in a recent speech at Black Hat in July of this year.  In her speech, Deputy Secretary Lute asked “Cyberspace: is it a war zone? Is it a marketplace, a neighborhood, a school, a highway, a do loop of our past activities, a playground, a sandbox…” and made several important points about its diversity.

It’s easy to see how emotions have driven the debate up to this point, as well as how sensibilities must be driven by human common sense and logic to help us get this right.  Deputy Secretary Lute is asking a very important and very sensible question.

To seek answers to those questions in SENDS, we are placing a significant level of confidence in modeling and simulation to help us better understand how people interact with each other and the technologies of cyberspace.  Approaches like SENDSim, along with the insights of users of cyberspace, as Bob pointed out, may the only way we’ll ever be able to define and begin to comprehend something so vast and complex.

SENDSim offers an economical opportunity to build a laboratory that helps us experiment with human insights and test interactions.  It offers us a way to address the dilemma Deputy Secretary Lute raises while ensuring we capture the nuances of human and technological interaction.  Examining the behaviors of each is critical to understanding cyberspace in a way that reflects both “Sense and Sensibility.”

Jane Austen’s characters apparently did well enough in their life without cyberspace, but most of us now rely on it for almost all forms of communications.  As Bob implored, please help us get these definitions right.  Help us do better science and experimentation, in the appropriately defined environment, by engaging in the “open-source science” of cyberspace.

To quote Bob from last time, please “send us your thoughts at”

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