Saturday, February 20, 2010

Frenemies and Functiononmeters - Countering Terrorism

   According to Dr. Gordon Woo, a catastrophe risk consultant who has also studied natural disasters, "It is the social networks between terrorists which ultimately are their undoing." Approximately 1 out of every 20 of a terrorists friends is either someone being watched by a security agency or an informant.   He concludes that terrorist cells with six or more members have about an 80% chance of being caught.  So one method of decreasing terrorist activities may be to model their extended social networks and the internal mechanisms of their cells.  Colonel Steve Horton's research focuses on the question of whether you can use raw data to infer social structure.  As a starting point he looks at the records over the last 30 years of bridge game scores to determine relationships between players.  
    On a different note, Dr. Paul Tannenbaum attempts to link the Research and Development world to the Battle Field by creating "functionometers" for the devices used by soldiers.  His hope is that by partially ordering the various functions of a device by their importance to a given mission, he can create a tool which quickly diagnoses the situation for the user.  In other words, the tool would be like a gas gauge of functionality ranging from "There's no way you can complete this mission with this device" to "Go for it!".
   Considering that several of the speakers for this Symposia were sick, a lot of information was presented.  I would loved to have heard more about how mathematics, as one speaker put it, "helps win over the hearts and minds" of insurgents' communities.  There are also ways to think of the mental attitude that condones terrorism as an "infection" that can be modeled in the same ways as disease.  For information on this and other research done in this area, check out Consortium for Mathematical Methods in Counterterrorism which was founded by Professor Jonathan Farley, the organizer of the symposium.


  1. Thanks a lot for providing continuous updates from AAAS Meeting.
    I did not about such a meeting otherwise would have planned to come there.

    Since I plan to work in industry after finishing PhD in Math, I am really interested in knowing how math is used in various industries.

  2. "Evolutionary Dynamics of the Insurgency in Iraq: A Mathematical Model of the Battle for Hearts and Minds"