Friday, February 26, 2010

"SimCity Baghdad" is the title of an intriguing article from The Atlantic magazine (Jan/Feb 2010 issue), and available via the link below.  It describes a new computer game called UrbanSim that allows U.S. Army officers to train in counterinsurgency tactics that are being implemented in Iraq.  As is often the case, the military is at the forefront of applying innovative tools such as simulation to meet new challenges.

As is the case with many simulation applications, a significant impetus for their use is that they are inexpensive and allow people to develop skills without being directly exposed to the consequences of their actions.  As pointed out in the article, “ games are cheap and can be played anywhere. And because the students all run the same scenarios, they can compare the efficacy of different approaches.”

The simulation was developed with significant input from soldiers who had returned from Iraq.  It is a type of simulation referred to as “agent-based simulation” that can be quite useful in portraying the dynamics of groups.  The game’s characters are modeled as autonomous agents that react not just to specific actions, but to the climate created by a player’s overall strategy.

These types of simulations are not intended to be predictive tools or to teach a specified series of actions in response to given situations.  “Rather, the intent is to teach commanders new ways of thinking about multiple problems in a fast-changing environment, always reevaluating instead of fixating on one approach...You have to think through the cause and effect of your decisions...”

Many of the benefits of simulation described in this case are the same as for managing nuclear safety culture.  As we pointed out in a prior blog post (“Social Licking”, October 6, 2009) , building and sustaining cultural norms can be significantly influenced by networked relationships - as in a nuclear plant organization - and that individuals are likely to model their behaviors based on the network.  The challenge of course is that the modeled behaviors need to be those that support safety culture.

Link to article.