Alan Turing eat your heart out…

I've always felt that anthropologists are curiously uncomfortable creatures socially. For a group of people for whom their bodies and selves are their key weapon, or shall we say central mode of knowing, theyare  often feel ill at ease in social situations. Unable to partake in small talk and nearly always reverting to "In X" tales, where X is the place they did their fieldwork, they often seem to positively squirm in social situations.

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Perhaps anthropologists in war zones don't need to be so sociable or even to be able to pass the Turing Test. It would appear that the Pentagon is willing to give this proposition a go because this work is currently "conducted by anthropological experts, known to carry their own bias, which often leads to faulty recommendations and inaccurate behavioral forecasting.” 

"Given all the problems the Pentagon has faced recruiting anthropologists to work with the military, it may have finally hit upon an easier solution: create computerized virtual  anthropologists to replace flesh and blood human beings. In a new request for research proposals aimed at small businesses, the Pentagon says it wants technology that would “enable accurate forecasting of a given populations’ potential responses to military relevant events…”


The don't want to put poor controversy plagued anthropologists totally out of business though, rather to find tools which can be….

“used to facilitate or to replicate wholly or in part many of the tasks that a human anthropological consultation would provide such as, counter-insurgency, reconstruction or support operations, allowing faster and more accurate development of social-cultural behaviors.”

The use of anthropologists in the Human Terrain System has been one of the enduring and voluble debates in the discipine over the last few years. Many would probably prefer to see machines replace human anthropologists but of course it's not quite so simple as that and one can imagine a new cadre of anthropologists coding up the Machine Malinowski within the walls of the DoD.


The entire article on Wired can be found here.