The U.S. military has been using video games for training for a long time, but what's happening in one anonymous village in Afghanistan is completely different: Barry Silverman, a game-savvy engineering prof at the University of Pennsylvania, is building a video-game-style computer model of an actual village to predict real-world outcomes, using data collected by "human terrain mapping" teams that interview and study Afghans.

Sponsored
King County Council is seeking to hire one or more Senior Legislative Analysts.
To apply & view a complete job announcement go to www.kingcounty.gov/jobs. Closes 4/26/21 at 11:59pm

  • If you want Rustam to make with the tea, you need to knock down his health meter.

He believes that one day, "the whole of southern Afghanistan will be recreated in a vast computer model. 'I think the goal in the long run would be to just crank out village after village,' he said." And that prompts worried speculation by some social scientists: “Are we going to detain someone if a computer predicts that he will become an insurgent?’’ asked Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist at George Mason University.

But who cares, because this whole thing can't possibly work. Can it?

In the past decade, a US agency has paid [Silverman] to model the Palestinian intifada, Al Qaeda figures, leaders in the Middle East, and 27 Iraqi political figures. In 2008, he was asked to make detailed guesses about events in Bangladesh, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, based on his models. The US agency measured his forecasts against real events, and they turned out to be more than 80 percent accurate, he said.

Support The Stranger

There's no word on how that 80% compares to educated guesses without computer models (and the models of course are only as good as the "human terrain" data provided), but the point remains: this is some crazy shit.

The Stranger Testing Department is Rob Lightner and Paul Hughes.