Koman: So let's say you have a program of a terrorist situation, and you've got snipers in the windows....
Macedonia: We have 400 actors on our payroll at STRICOM. Actors are wonderful but they get tired, they whine a lot, and they're very expensive. Just like real actors in Hollywood, they're always wondering what the motivation is. One of the things that we're interested in is adding synthetic characters that represent police, the Red Cross, kids, and so on; essentially things that are usually in the real world that don't get represented a lot in military training. Creative Technologies is trying to create synthetic characters that have real behaviors that can talk to you and interact with you with emotions and behavior in a rather restricted domain. So imagine if I've got all these people hooked up to these augmented reality systems, and I'm able to inject all these synthetic actors into it.
Now one of the major theme park companies is very interested. I will not reveal their name though, but did you notice that we're in Orlando?
Koman: I bet they would be interested. It sounds an awful lot like the Holodeck.
Macedonia: But seriously, this is serious research, and there are a number of other organizations and outfits working on similar ideas. For example, Canon has been working on this technology. So we're at the phase where a lot of things have started to change to enable this to come out of the lab. Number one is portable graphics-processing capability. Right now you can actually do 3-D graphics on a Compaq Ipaq. If you just follow the normal curve, graphics computing power doubles every 12 months. It's actually faster than Moore's Law, which is every 18 months. So you're seeing mobile processors rapidly advance. Then you have just gobs of memory. Memory is no longer an issue.
Once we get into the high-bandwidth wireless issues, whether it's 802.11, or it's 3G or 4G, we can actually have huge, peer-to-peer mobile computing environments, because from a military context, having a centralized server is a point of failure, a critical failure node. You don't want to put all your data on one server because once you take that server out, then you've got a lot of blind people with a lot of useless electronics.
Koman: Right. The theory of the way the Internet itself is built.
Macedonia: Then the issue becomes, I have a lot of devices that in a sense become servers themselves. I mean that's the whole idea behind P2P.
Koman: Right. They're devices and servers at the same time.
Macedonia: So in fact, we're starting to demonstrate that on some of what we call semi-automated forces staff, which is sort of the AI bad guys we use in our simulations. We used to run these on small supercomputers; now we're running them on PCs with Linux.
Simulations don't lend themselves to a centralized server because from a technology standpoint, the server becomes the bottleneck, and for years I've been involved with trying to come up with schemes using multicast communications and stuff like that to enable peer computing. Multicast still has a long way to go, but in a wireless environment you essentially have a broadcast environment, and you don't have all the issues of routing bandwidth, like you do with like things like Gnutella and FreeNet.
Koman: Can you move from this fairly sophisticated simulation process of peer-to-peer communication between modules to a life combat situation?
Macedonia: Yes, in fact, we've got tons of research that shows that people's performance is substantially improved by training in simulation. I mean oodles of data. It's the most common question I get, and I say yes, we can make people really good in simulation.
Koman: But in combat itself, you've got soldiers with head-mounted displays, perhaps. Can you get live data in a real combat situation, shared in a peer-to-peer fashion?
Macedonia: That's the Holy Grail. We have lots of data that shows that people in simulation do extraordinarily well in the live environment. Now, the thing is, they've always been two separate events. Let me give you an example. In the '80s, we built a gunnery trainer called UCOFT, Conduct of Fire Trainer. With UCOFT you can fire tank rounds day and night because they're virtual tank rounds; they don't cost you any money so you just fire virtual tank rounds all day long. We took those soldiers out and we put them in a real tank together after using UCOFT, and these folks went and beat everybody in tank gunnery imaginable. Everybody said, "How did these soldiers get so good?" Well, because they spent literally days and weeks inside this gunnery trainer perfecting their gunnery skills, as opposed to the typical training where the soldiers go out and they fire a couple rounds a day when they're in training.
If you look at the future, your training system suddenly becomes your mission-planning system. Before I go attack that hill, I'm going to run a simulation of it with my squad over the next 10 minutes, and we're just going to simulate it and we're going to do it virtually while we're waiting here for orders to move out. Before you do anything you go out and you run a simulation.