Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Center for the Science of Cyberspace

by Carl Hunt
In the 14 October blog, I discussed strategies for SENDS and described one of the four SENDS Pilot tasks dealing with the development and application of sophisticated modeling and simulation tools. Specifically, I described a project we call SENDSim. As you recall, SENDSim provides a laboratory for experimentation in SENDS.
There are several purposes for SENDSim, but one of the most important deals with visualizing interactions of people, technologies and policies in order to design a better process of inquiry for understanding cyberspace both tactically and strategically. The discussion of inquiry (and thus evidence-based) strategy and tactics is as important to cyberspace operations and defense as it is to national security and prosperity, as we’ve noted throughout these blogs and the entire SENDS Pilot Project.
In speaking about strategy for cyberspace, we turn now to another of the SENDS Pilot tasks: Prototype a Center for the Science of Cyberspace. This task has two main purposes, supported by all the others.
The first main purpose of this task is to foster the development of a Science of Cyberspace (as we have proposed here and discussed here and here). We want to achieve this objective while simultaneously accomplishing the second purpose of creating a virtual center for collaborative inquiry, discussions and hosting of the laboratories we are deploying through SENDSim and other similar projects.
The quest to develop a scientific discipline follows an interest of the original SENDS project leadership to think about cyberspace as an ecosystem, a synergistic collection of entities that thrive in balance with each other and the sustaining environment. This description points to why we cannot think of cyberspace as any one "big thing" and why cyberspace protection and security can never be composed of any one technological approach: we need science to frame an objective, inquiry-derived discussion about cyberspace.
In the current Science of Cyberspace White Paper, we devote a good deal of space to describing the sustaining environment of cyberspace. For this blog, we only point out that it is a blend of people and technology that empower the processes of exchange and self-organization to produce emergent effects and behaviors, as we’ve previously described here and here. It is these cyberspace-enabled effects and behaviors that we want to study and understand.
To help sustain and better formalize the development of the Science of Cyberspace, we are using the SENDS Substrate as an initial “Center for Cyberspace Science.” This allows us to collaborate through reviews and comments without having to come together to meet physically. We still intend to meet several times a year, but science requires plugging along consistently, openly and collaboratively challenging ideas and testing, and refining inquiry and evidence. At this point, the substrate can do this in a rudimentary way and allow us to make initial progress with smaller financial investments. It also harnesses the power of cyberspace connectivity.
As the Pilot Project progresses, we'll continually open the SENDS Substrate to more and more people interested in progressing the Science of Cyberspace and the studies that will support it. This blog, for example, is already generating what appears to be an international audience with readers (we hope) from the UK, Singapore, France and the Philippines, as well as the US. This is in keeping with developing the Science of Cyberspace as “Open Science.” We are pleased to welcome these readers.
You’ll note that I used the terms “evidence-based” and “inquiry-based” several times in today’s blog. We’ll close the discussions today on why those terms are so important, pointing back again to the work of David Schum. When it comes to science, inquiry emerges from many sources, including the process of discovery through tools such as SENDSim. Refinement of inquiry into something useful that helps to prove or refute the “answers” we uncover in our questions requires analysis and testing of evidence: the more open, the better.
The process of inquiry and testing evidence that can then be modeled and subjected to further scrutiny turns curiosity into science. It is in this area that Dave and his years of work in developing a “science of evidence” have made such a great contribution. His inspiration and the insights of those he exhorts us to study will help guide SENDS in developing and refining a Science of Cyberspace and a Center in which to explore it.
As promised, we’ll discuss the other tasks and more about SENDS in the near future. We’ll also present some brief book reviews of contemporary texts (just released) such as Steven Johnson’s new book Where Good Ideas Come From and Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants. Both of these works apply directly to SENDS and the Science of Cyberspace. We look forward to sharing their insights with our readers.