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Raytheon gets $10.5M to develop "serious games"

US intelligence group wants games that eliminate bias, improve decision-making

By Layer 8 on Fri, 11/18/11 - 3:18pm.

These aren't your basic video gaming systems here.  The US government gave Raytheon BBN Technologies a $10.5 million today to develop what it called "serious games" that result in better decision-making by teaching players to recognize and diminish the effects of their own biases when analyzing information used to make decisions.   

Under a contract from the government's cutting edge research group, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), Raytheon BBN will develop game-based training programs featuring an international detective theme developed by game designers, cognitive psychologists and experts in intelligence analysis and in measuring game-player engagement.

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IARPA said that some research has shown that serious games, what it calls videogames developed for educational, therapeutic, or other non-entertainment purposes, can develop positive learning for real- world skills or behavior changes.   

"A broad consensus exists that human decision making relies on a repertoire of simple, fast, heuristic decision rules that are used in specific situations. These decision rules can sometimes bias general problem-solving (usually unconsciously) in ways that produce erroneous results. Cognitive bias problems are seen in many professions where analysis is an important component (such as intelligence, law enforcement, medicine, aviation, journalism, and scientific research). When an intelligence problem invokes these cognitive biases, analysts may draw inferences or adopt beliefs that are logically unsound or not supported by evidence. Cognitive biases in analysis tend to increase with the level of uncertainty, lead to systematic errors, filter perceptions, shape assumptions and constrain alternatives. Cognitive biases are unlikely to be eliminated, but research suggests that they may be mitigated by awareness, collaboration, and critical or procedural thinking processes," IARPA stated.

The gaming system will focus on certain types of bias that frequently hurt effective decision-making:

  • Confirmation bias -- the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms preconceptions.
  • Blind spot bias -- being less aware of one's own cognitive biases than those of others.
  • Fundamental attribution error -- over-emphasizing personality-based or character-based effects on behavior.
  • Anchoring bias -- relying too heavily on one trait or one piece of information.
  • Representative bias -- judging the likelihood of a hypothesis by its resemblance to immediately available data.
  • Projection bias -- assuming others share one's current feelings, values or thinking

IARPA has a number of interesting projects on the table.  Earlier this month IAPR said it was going to fund development of new, advanced chip-making technology under a program it calls Trusted Integrated Chips.  TIC would feature what IARPA calls "split-manufacturing," where fabrication of new chips would be divided into manufacturing consisting of transistor layers to be fabricated by offshore foundries and separate development that would be fabricated by trusted US facilities. The ideas is to take advantage of the world's semiconductor manufacturing capacity but make sure that US security and intellectual property protection is baked in.

In July, the agency said publically available data that could be aggregated and used by intelligent systems to predict future events is out there, if you can harness the technology to utilize it. It offered up its Open Source Indicators (OSI) program to "develop methods for continuous, automated analysis of publicly available data in order to anticipate and/or detect societal disruptions, such as political crises, disease outbreaks, economic instability, resource shortages, and natural disasters," IARPA stated.

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