U.S. Military’s “Human Terrain Mapping” Concerns Anthropologists

June 2, 2010 -

The growing reliance of the U.S. military on high-tech recreations of foreign villages and their inhabitants has some social scientists concerned.

A Boston.com story on the subject begins by outlining the work of University of Pennsylvania engineer Barry Silverman, who has been funded (by an unnamed U.S. agency) to the tune of over $500,000 in order to recreate a 3D computer model of an actual village in Afghanistan. Silverman is supplied with data from U.S. Army social scientists, who interviewed residents of the actual village.

Dubbed “human terrain mapping, it’s hoped that this technology can assist the U.S. in fighting terrorists and insurgents, but the whole idea has Hugh Gusterson, a George Mason University anthropologist, concerned. Gusterson asked, “Are we going to detain someone if a computer predicts that he will become an insurgent?"

He continued:

The real danger of models is their seductiveness. They can be so realistic and powerful that it is easy to forget they are just a model, and they start to rely on them more and more.

Similarly concerned, the U.S. Department Energy has banned its employees from working with data about specific individuals, “citing fears that it could violate a federal law mandating that human research subjects never be harmed.”

Another group to come out against the practice of embedding social scientists in foreign locations is the American Anthropological Association, which claimed “that military work violates the profession’s code of ethics.”

Anthropologist John Allison, who was a member of the human terrain mapping team before resigning, indicated that teams “were taught to upload the data into a classified Pentagon database known as SIPRNet, where is it distributed to a host of US agencies, some of whom pass it on to analysts like Silverman.”

Budgets for the Human Social Culture Behavior Modeling Program (HSCB), which operates under the Office of Naval Research (ONR), have grown to $25.0 million, while the entire budget for supporting human terrain teams has shot up from $20.0 million in 2005 to $100.0 million in 2010.

An HSCB newsletter stated that the purpose of the organization “is to enable DoD and the US Government to understand and effectively operate in the human terrain during nonconventional warfare and other missions."


Saw that Neeneko also posted this in the Shoutbox, thanks!


Comments

Re: U.S. Military’s “Human Terrain Mapping” Concerns ...

 The complaint I tend to have about this piece, and its quoted critisism, is that they seem to attack projects and applications that do not actually exist.  It is like being handed an apple and complaining oranges are too tart.

These projects are not terribly useful for profiling.  They are good for training soldiers about a cultural landscape, and they are useful for trying to predict what consequences various actions might have.  In short, they are tools for understanding cultures other then our own, which is why I find it so baffling that people rant against it for removing the human element or other such complaints.

Re: U.S. Military’s “Human Terrain Mapping” Concerns ...

This is what I was thinking as well as I read this.  Unless I am missing something, I don't see the problem here.

Re: U.S. Military’s “Human Terrain Mapping” Concerns ...

Sounds like high-tech profiling if nothing else.  Just rename the "social scientists" to "insurgent profilers" (like "criminal profilers") and everyone will be happy-happy-joy-joy.  There seems to be no problem with such "profilers" working with government organizations such as the FBI. 

The difference is that they are taking the population of a village and "profiling" who may be a danger, rather than creating a "profile" to determine who might be a suspect of certain acts.  Actually, that's also pretty similar.

It is also true that some profiling, based on race, gender, etc, has received negative reception.  Usually only when the "target" has organizations to say that the act is wrong.

But, in this case, it's a village of individuals and factors other than race, at least, would be used.  Gender would possibly be a factor.  Religion, maybe, but not so much as a village may contain a population of very similar or same religious beliefs.  The larger the population, however, the more diversity could exist.

Nightwng2000

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Nightwng2000 NW2K Software http://www.facebook.com/nightwing2000 Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as http://groups.myspace.com/pfenl
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