"Human performance will be as important, if not more important,
than technology in 2030," predicted a high-level Army intelligence
The reason is that "we've seen an erosion in our
technological advantage to overmatch adversaries," a trend that will
continue, said Thomas Greco, G-2 for the U.S. Army Training and
Greco and Dr. Kira Hutchinson, director,
intelligence/engagement, TRADOC, G-2, spoke during a Nov. 9 media
teleconference that summarized findings of the Mad Scientist 2015
conference's "Human Dimension 2025 and Beyond: Building Cohesive
Teams to Win in a Complex World," held Oct. 27 - 28 on Fort
Mad Scientist is an annual event that
brings together thousands of U.S. and international leading
scientists, innovators and thinkers from industry and academia at
the conference and through virtual attendance.
Cognitive dominance is critical to winning in a complex world, experts say. (U.S. Army artwork by Peggy Frierson)
"It's about asking disruptive questions," Greco said of
the goal of Mad Scientist, and it's about "challenging the
Army's traditional-held beliefs and group think."
The key to optimizing human performance, Greco said, is
tapping into the energy and power of the human brain.
To reduce the risk of technological
overmatch, the Army must create a culture of rapid learning,
enhanced empathy and neural plasticity, he said.
Hutchinson said neural plasticity refers to structural and
processing changes to the brain due to effective cognitive
training. It was once thought that the brain developed to a
great extent only in early childhood, but studies have since
shown that the brain can continue to develop throughout a
Army scientists, for example, have
effectively used cognitive therapy to mitigate the effects
of damage to the brain following wounds and injuries, she
said. But in the current context, the idea is to explore how
neural plasticity can also work to help healthy Soldiers
perform even more optimally.
HOW IT'S DONE
low-tech method for optimizing human performance, Greco
said, is through physical fitness and psychological fitness.
These approaches, which the Army uses in its ready and
resilience programs like Comprehensive Soldier and Family
Fitness and Performance Triad, have been shown to foster a
healthier brain, with consequent effects in better decision
A more sophisticated way of increasing
cognitive capability is by placing Soldiers in "the brain
gym," he said, comparing it to a physical workout in a
gymnasium. The brain gym can be a physical or virtual space
where Soldiers go to work on their cognitive fitness.
A lot about this is still in development, he said. The
goal would be to measure baseline cognitive performance,
then introduce the training and measure the results in a
An example of a current effort, he
said, involves "red teaming." That effort, being led by
personnel at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural
Studies, on Fort Leavenworth, involves training Soldiers to
be critical thinkers.
administered by red team members, help Soldiers to identify
when they have fallacies in their thinking, and provide ways
to mitigate it, Greco said. Red teaming also involves
training individuals to identify group think so they can
mitigate it. Mitigation involves such things as getting
reticent and non-leaders of a team to provide valuable input
that otherwise might not be heard. "This is cutting edge."
Another example of the "brain gym" involves cognitive
training using live and virtual reality gaming, he said. For
instance, squad-level training could involve complex,
high-stress training in an "immersive environment." Each
member of the squad is faced with rigorous exercises and
must respond appropriately. In this way, they can identify
their strengths and weaknesses.
The game gets
increasingly more challenging and intense, taxing the
squad's cognitive limits and then extending those limits, he
This squad brain gym example cited by Greco not
only measures and improves individual performance, it
evaluates interactions of the Soldiers in ways that
contribute to a more effective squad team, Hutchinson said.
An outcome of that evaluation, she said, might be that
the squad as a whole can perform better by collecting
critical thinking input from each of the team members and
not falling into the trap of group think, whereby effective
ideas are discarded to conform to the leader's point of
The Army isn't alone in harnessing brain power
to improve performance, she noted. For instance, sports
teams are using neuroscience to enable players to make
better snap decisions while under pressure. The Army is
following those developments.
OTHER COGNITIVE APPROACHES
Besides nurturing the brain and brain gym
exercises, the Army would like America's youth to get an
early start in education relating to science, technology,
engineering and mathematics, commonly referred to as STEM,
Greco said. These are skills needed to operate in an
increasingly high-technology environment, such as cyber.
Public schools and post-secondary education institutions
would need to take the lead on this, he said. In turn, the
Army would continue to develop their STEM skills once the
students become Soldiers.
Unfortunately, the current
selection process of assigning a new Soldier a military
occupational specialty involves a lot of self-selection,
A cognitive assessment approach might be
used to identify specific aptitudes and attributes people
have that might allow them to excel in particular fields, he
said. This could lead individuals to make different, more
informed choices. This approach would also factor physical
and psychological assessments.
Talent management will
be one of the most important aspects of the Army in the next
20 or 30 years because "jobs will change dramatically as
technology advances" and more highly-skilled Soldiers will
be needed to be placed where they're best suited, Hutchinson
AGE OF MACHINE
Another rapidly expanding area in cognitive development
involves human-machine interaction, Hutchinson said.
is that neither people nor machines perform as optimally as
when both are teamed together, she said. For instance,
machines are good at rapid calculations and operating in
austere environments without getting hungry, stressed or
tired. People, on the other hand, are good at reasoning,
synthesizing and pattern recognition.
is building the interface between the human and machine so
they can effectively team up and exploit each of their
strengths. An interface includes such things as displays,
controls, feedback, communications, and so on, that
facilitate human-machine collaboration.
example of efforts in human-machine interaction involves
Apache helicopter pilots teaming with autonomous vehicles,
"Culture eats strategy for breakfast,"
Greco said. "Ideas won't survive and flourish unless there's
a culture that will embrace the requirement for adaptive and
By U.S. Army David Vergun
Army News Service
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