NextGen social science and the warfighter

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) researchers are trying to find humanity’s driving factor. To do this, they started the Next Generation Social Science (NGS2) program, which will focus on developing new methods and tools that will allow researchers to build models of human social behavior.

Imagine taking this model to pick and choose the future generation of the . All recruits already take a test to evaluate their aptitude and where they will fit within the military. Each service takes into account the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (). We all took it back in high school among a multitude of other tests that measures our ability to succeed in life.

What the ASVAB does is evaluate the level of aptitude the recruit has and what jobs he will qualify for. Depending on the score, the recruit – although most don’t know this until it’s too late – will have the opportunity to choose between the jobs that make your life a little bit easier in the military versus those that are more difficult. To a certain extent, the ASVAB places the recruit in a hierarchy within the military that one would not realize exists.

Let me be clear, there are a multitude of qualifications that a recruit needs to meet in order to be in the military. The recruit undergoes physical and mental tests from the moment he signs on to when he graduates , and beyond. To me the ASVAB is the equivalent of the SATs; it helps to determine how successful you are in your military career.

Under this program, researches will expand on the three current core capabilities:

  1. Innovative experimental methods and platforms
  2. Interpretation and reproducibility of research results
  3. Predictive modeling and hypothesis generation

At the beginning stages of the program, researches will try to understand what “variables matter most when it comes to collective identity and related issues of cooperative behavior and cultural norms,” officials say in a press release. Data will be gathered solely from the following sources: public available data, studies using gaming, and other platforms where everyone is fully aware of the research.

Social science has its limitations, including technical and logistical limits to studying a large group that is representative of the population, says Adam Russell, DARPA program manager. “As a result, it’s been difficult for social scientists to determine what variables matter most in explaining their observations of human social systems and to move from documenting correlation to identifying causation.”

Society is ever evolving, and I think has been leading the military to make changes within its . For example, the U.S. Navy is moving away from skirts as part of their uniform for females. The U.S. Naval Academy will graduate its cadets in 2016 with no female wearing a skirt, and this month the U.S. Navy issued the male’s Dixie cup to females for the first time.

Air Force Gen. Lori J. Robinson is the new commander of U.S. Northern Command. Photo by U.S. Air Force/ Tech. Sgt. James Stewart

Gen. Lori Robinson is the first female to be appointed by the Senate as a combatant general. She will lead the U.S. Northern Command and according to a MilitaryTimes article, her confirmation took a little more than a month since the initial announcement of her nomination, “Senators have not moved nearly as fast with civilian defense posts, with several service secretary positions staying vacant for months due to political infighting.”

Capt. Griest in Ranger School. Photo by U.S. Army/ Spc. Nikayla Shodeen

Within the same week, Capt. Kristen Griest – one of the first females to graduate from Ranger school – was approved to become the first female infantry officer.

What innate characteristics do these women have that have allowed them to succeed so well within a male-dominated world? What is their driving factor? DARPA’s NGS2 program would be an invaluable asset towards answering these questions. To date, no one can predict human behavior, but our characteristics drive us to a certain path in life. I would say Robinson and Griest share some interesting characteristics that drove them to go against the military grain.

If NGS2 is successful and if the program were ever to be used this way, the military will do away with all its current issues with personnel that were not meant for military life, and the armed forces will be stronger and better suited for future threats. To strengthen the military, we do not need to build the , we just need the right people at the front lines, leading, fighting, and protecting us.

For more information on the program, visit