“Sentient World Simulation.” The program’s aim, according to its creator, is to be a “continuously running, continually updated mirror model of the real world that can be used to predict and evaluate future events and courses of action.” In practical terms that equates to a computer simulation of the planet complete with billions of “nodes” representing every person on the earth.The project is based out of Purdue University in Indiana at the Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulations Laboratory. It is led by Alok Chaturvedi, who in addition to heading up the Purdue lab also makes the project commercially available via his private company, Simulex, Inc. which boasts an array of government clients, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice, as well as private sector clients like Eli Lilly and Lockheed Martin.
The program can be used to predict what would happen in the event of a large-scale tsunami, revolutions, uprisings, conflicts, riots or how people would react during a bioterror attack. Businesses can use the models to predict how a new product would fare in the market, what kind of marketing plans would be most effective, or how best to streamline a company’s organization.
Forecasting the future of a country isn’t always done traditionally, predicting revolution or war has been a secretive project, for the simple reason that any reliable prediction would be too valuable to share. But as predictions lean more on data, they’ve actually become harder to keep secret, ushering in a new generation of open-source prediction models that butt against the status quo. The story of automated conflict prediction starts at the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, known as the Pentagon’s R&D wing. In the 1990s, DARPA wanted to try out software-based approaches to anticipating which governments might collapse in the near future. The CIA was already on the case, with section chiefs from every region filing regular forecasts, but DARPA wanted to see if a computerized approach could do better. They looked at a simple question: will this country’s government face an acute existential threat in the next six months? When CIA analysts were put to the test, they averaged roughly 60 percent accuracy, so DARPA’s new system set the bar at 80 percent, looking at 29 different countries in Asia with populations over half a million. It was dubbed ICEWS, the Integrated Conflict Early Warning System, and it succeeded almost immediately, clearing 80 percent with algorithms built on simple regression analysis. The original concept paper for the project was published in 2006 and in 2007 it was reported that both Homeland Security and the Defense Department were already using the system to simulate the American public’s reaction to various crises. In the intervening five years, however, there has been almost no coverage at all of the Sentient World Simulation or its progress in achieving a model of the earth.
The NSA’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. The building of the massive NSA data center in Utah to permanently store copies of all digital communication sent around the world. The UK government’s “Communications Data Bill” to monitor emails, instant messages and other personal information. What was dismissed as crazy conspiracy theory just over a decade ago has become, in this post-9/11 era, the all-too-familiar stuff of newspaper headlines and talking head reportage.
In fact, it was about a decade ago that the tactic of the intelligence agencies seemed to change. Instead of keeping their activities classified–referring to the NSA as “No Such Agency,” for example, or officially denying the existence of Echelon–the government increasingly began shoving this information in the public’s face.
Perhaps the scariest thing about something like the Total Information Awareness Office is not merely that it was proposed in the first place, or that it incorporated such blatantly creepy Orwellian imagery to convey its true nature and purpose, but that, as we sit here 10 years later, and as the core functions of the TIA office are now being openly performed by the NSA, DHS and other governmental agencies, people are now actively making excuses for this nightmarish police state.
To be sure, the power that these technologies give for agencies, or corrupt groups within those agencies, to destroy the lives of targeted individuals, is itself a fitting answer to the question of why government surveillance should be troubling to us. But beyond what can happen to specific, targeted individuals in such a scenario, however, is a much larger question: What if this data, our emails, our phone calls, our credit card transactions, our social media posts, our cell phone GPS logs, and all of the hundreds of other pieces of data that are admittedly being collected on us every day, were being fed into a database so gargantuan it contains a digital version of every single person on the planet? And what if that database were being used by the Department of Defense to war game various scenarios, from public reactions to natural disasters to the likelihood of civil unrest in the wake of a declaration of martial law?
The Sentient World Simulation is just one example of one program run by one company for various governmental and Fortune 500 clients. But it is a significant peek behind the curtain at what those who are really running our society want: complete control over every facet of our lives achieved through a complete invasion of everything that was once referred to as “privacy.” To think that this is the only such program that exists, or even that we have any significant details about the ways that the SWS has already been used, would be hopelessly naive.So where does this leave a public that is at such a disadvantage in this information warfare? A public that is effectively told that anything and everything they do, say or buy, can and will be cataloged by the a.i. control grid even as the details of that grid are to be kept from them? Unfortunately there is no easy way back from the precipice that we were ushered toward with the creation of the national security state and the passage of the National Security Act of 1947. Perhaps we have already stepped over that precipice and there is no going back in the current political paradigm. These are things for an informed, aware, knowledgeable citizenry to decide through a societal dialogue over the nature of and importance of “privacy.”