Computer Science and Information Technology

The need for FOSS intelligence tools for sensemaking etc.

This suggestion is about how civilians could benefit by have access to the sorts of "sensemaking" tools the intelligence community (as well as corporations) aspire to have, in order to design more joyful, secure, and healthy civilian communities (including through creating a more sustainable and resilient open manufacturing infrastructure for such communities). It outlines (including at a linked elaboration) why the intelligence community should consider funding the creation of such free and open source software (FOSS) "dual use" intelligence applications as a way to reduce global tensions through increased local prosperity, health, and with intrinsic mutual security.


I feel open source tools for collaborative structured arguments, multiple perspective analysis, agent-based simulation, and so on, used together for making sense of what is going on in the world, are important to our democracy, security, and prosperity. Imagine if, instead of blog posts and comments on topics, we had searchable structured arguments about simulations and their results all with assumptions defined from different perspectives, where one could see at a glance how different subsets of the community felt about the progress or completeness of different arguments or action plans (somewhat like a debate flow diagram), where even a year of two later one could go back to an existing debate and expand on it with new ideas. As good as, say, Slashdot is, such a comprehensive open source sensemaking system would be to Slashdot as Slashdot is to a static webpage. It might help prevent so much rehashing the same old arguments because one could easily find and build on previous ones.

OpenPCAST itself could benefit through using such tools.


Such technologies have already been pioneered by SRI and others in SEAS, Angler, and the broader Genoa II project.


Related by (the, sadly, late) Tom Armour on Genoa II:

And a public memorial that mentions Tom Armour's loss to brain cancer (cancer being one of the biggest real killers of US Americans historically, along with strokes, heart disease, and diabetes):


If only those intelligence systems had also been able to help prevent or treat brain cancer (as well as other disasters, from the plague of obesity through the still ongoing BP Gulf oil leak disaster).


For example, we are beginning to understand how curing vitamin D deficiency and eating more fruits, vegetables, and legumes can help with prevention of many cancers and a host of other diseases, such as through the work of Dr. John Cannell and Dr. Joel Fuhrman and others in connecting the dots about vitamin D and nutrition and health. But why should such dedicated people trying to help all Americans (and other people) not have access to the best sensemaking tools tax dollars are creating to help with their work?


So, beyond national security implications, better FOSS intelligence tools for sensemaking might also help improve medical research and specific medical recommendations, to prevent more such tragedies and the loss of such vital and and wise people to what might become more generally preventable diseases, if we could only make sense of what we know as it applies to current needs. Likewise, such tools might help in designing better products or even healthier and more joyful communities.


As with that notion of "mutual security", the US intelligence community needs to look beyond seeing an intelligence tool as just something proprietary that gives a "friendly" analyst some advantage over an "unfriendly" analyst. Instead, the intelligence community could begin to see the potential for a free and open source intelligence tool as a way to promote "friendship" across the planet by dispelling some of the gloom of "want and ignorance" (see the scene in "A Christmas Carol" with Scrooge and a Christmas Spirit) that we still have all too much of around the planet. So, beyond supporting legitimate US intelligence needs (useful with their own closed sources of data), supporting a free and open source intelligence tool (and related open datasets) could become a strategic part of US (or other nation's) "diplomacy" and constructive outreach.


Now, there are many people out there (including computer scientists) who may raise legitimate concerns about privacy or other important issues in regards to any system that can support the intelligence community (as well as civilian needs). As I see it, there is a race going on. The race is between two trends. On the one hand, the internet can be used to profile and round up dissenters to the scarcity-based economic status quo (thus legitimate worries about privacy and something like TIA). On the other hand, the internet can be used to change the status quo in various ways (better designs, better science, stronger social networks advocating for some healthy mix of a basic income, a gift economy, democratic resource-based planning, improved local subsistence, etc., all supported by better structured arguments like with the Genoa II approach) to the point where there is abundance for all and rounding up dissenters to mainstream economics is a non-issue because material abundance is everywhere. So, as Bucky Fuller said, whether is will be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race to the very end. While I can't guarantee success at the second option of using the internet for abundance for all, I can guarantee that if we do nothing, the first option of using the internet to round up dissenters (or really, anybody who is different, like was done using IBM computers in WWII Germany) will probably prevail. So, I feel the global public really needs access to these sorts of sensemaking tools in an open source way, and the way to use them is not so much to "fight back" as to "transform and/or transcend the system". As Bucky Fuller said, you never change thing by fighting the old paradigm directly; you change things by inventing a new way that makes the old paradigm obsolete.


For more details, see this document and others it links to in turn:


This project could be done in conjunction with this other one I suggested:

"A global effort to develop self-replicating space habitats"


--Paul Fernhout


The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those thinking in terms of scarcity.

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Idea No. 306