Leadership: Computers Can Do Your Thinking Faster


November 3, 2011: Back in the 1970s, the Russians began working on the concept of computer assisted tactical planning. The Russians did some interesting theoretical work, but never had computers that were cheap, rugged, powerful and reliable enough to make these ideas work in practice. After the Cold War, the U.S. took up the challenge. It was in America that suitable computer technology was being created, and American military leaders were developing an unprecedented number of new ideas and technology. Now, workable computerized tactical planners are appearing.

One of these is MATE (Machine Analysis of Tactical Environments), a software system that can give a commander and his staff an optimized plan in less than ten seconds. MATE can then update the plan continuously as the situation changes. While commanders have made these decisions by themselves for thousands of years, they did it with available, and often fragmentary, information. But now there is a lot more data available. Most importantly, the data is getting back to the commander and his staff much more quickly. There are already tools available to analyze key types of data. For example, geospatial data (3-D maps with terrain analyzed for things like how easy vehicles move over it, and how much cover it provides troops) is already a standard tool for American commanders and their staffs.

Software like MATE not only incorporates all of this data, and does so continuously. More importantly, MATE was also able to test the system against recent battles to make sure that it works. This not only assures the developers that they have a reliable system, but gives commanders confidence in using it for the first time. MATE also presents findings in graphical format that the commander can quickly comprehend, and makes it possible for staff officers to drill down into the details, to better understand why MATE is recommending something that was not immediately obvious.

Actually, a commander and his staff could do the same thing MATE does, but it takes a lot longer doing it manually. So instead of waiting hours for all this analysis to be done, MATE gives you results in ten seconds. That makes an enormous difference, because the battlefield situation changes fast. In the time it takes to do a thorough analysis manually, the situation could change sufficiently to require a new analysis. MATE eliminates the problem, and gives commanders a powerful new decision making tool.



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