12 March 2011

IARPA's Own Cognitive Bias

So here are three slides from the recent IARPA proposer's day conference on their new Sirius program. They're wanting to creating some training games for helping analysts combat cognitive biases that may affect their analytical product. So far, so good.

Here's a brief intro to cognitive bias, as IARPA sees is (click to enlarge images)

Note the first two bullets: "simple, fast, heuristic decision rules" that can "bias general problem-solving in ways that can produce erroneous results". Why is their description of a cognitive bias here all that important?

Check out their definition of a serious game:
Hmmmmm....  seems to me we were playing games long before we were plugging game-playing mechanisms into the wall.  Why are "Serious Games" limited to "Videogames"?  Kriegspiel - arguably the first serious game - was invented over 250 years ago and was being used by the Prussian General Staff well before electricity was harnessed enough to power an Xbox.

You don't suppose someone at IARPA has a cognitive bias at play here, do you?  They hear the word "game" and immediately assume it includes a power cord?

I wonder how they're combatting that bias?  Maybe they should invent some training games for combatting cognitive biases?

And here's your irony...  in a slide entitled "Sirius Technology Constraints" they specify a variety of technology minimums, and specifically rule out the least technological of all: board and table-top games.
Now, they may have ruled those out for delivery reasons - easier to play with an AI or in mutli-location mode through a digital mechanism, and digits can enable a wider variety of adjudication mechanisms, depending on implementation.  But those reasons aren't enumerated and given the earlier obvious cognitive bias in favor of Videogames ├╝ber alles, it's not a surprise they ruled board and table-top games out of scope.

If you're interested in some more info on the presentation, you can find the entire slide deck here. (PDF)
The full solicitation page from IARPA is here.

By: Brant


Guardian said...

I appreciate your love for board/table-top games, but I have a theory as to why IARPA and other agencies favor them. The administration and adjudication processes can be overwhelming, especially to inexperienced players.

I think about our occasional board gaming nights. I enjoy the games. I enjoy the socialization. The economic barriers to entry are perhaps lower than for electronic games. I've personally seen the wargames you've developed and they are of a professional quality, while one person would have a hard time developing a professional-quality electronic game to modern standards.

But, as we play, I just can't help thinking how much easier it would be and how much more we could actually focus on the fun parts (playing the game and catching up) if we had a computer system keeping tracking of all the details.

I wonder if there's a market for a "wargame construction kit" that would make it easy for non-programmers like you to make a modern, professional-quality electronic game.

Zachary said...

It does seem odd that a group would limit themselves to digital games in order to help people avoid cognitive bias.

I appreciate, (and agree with) Guardians comment that computers are wonderful at "keeping track of the details". Maybe that is why IARPA has constrain themselves to "computers, web-based games, consoles and tablets". However, it seems if they really want to help people "think outside of the box", they would employ as many different methods as possible.

Are board/table-top games just not sexy enough, or are organizations looking for ways to justify purchasing the newest tablet computing device by purposefully limiting themselves to digital games?

At any rate, very interesting.

Brant said...

I think it's a combination of (a) assuming that computer games are somehow superior as games, which I completely dispute, and (b) that digital delivery works better in their paradigm, which I'm more than willing to grant them.

The thing is, you can play a "board game" on the computer - chess, anyone? - but does that make it less of a "board game"?

Zachary said...

That exact question was just posed by Scott Nicholson about 10 days ago here: http://bit.ly/fVAjQd

I see this same discussion happening with other forms of media. For example, is an ebook still a book, or is it something else?