Building Peace Family Blog Arabic Blog

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Language is Hard

Here is a personal anecdote to show how hard it is to train qualified speakers in difficult languages.

I spent months prior to DLI teaching myself the Arabic alphabet, grammar basics, and vocabulary. At DLI I studied relentlessly, often rising at 0530 and working more or less continually on language until bedtime. My infant son had the dubious pleasure of sitting four hours at a time on my lap while I studied flashcards or read Arabic news. I rushed to finish a 63-week course in 38 weeks, passed the DLPT, and rushed to Jordan four months before starting at University so I could start working on the dialect. I enrolled in three different schools at various times, studied with two private tutors, and kept up a lot private study. In other words, I've worked extremely hard.

Today I had some business at the University. While I was filling out a complicated form in Arabic, I started chatting with a girl nearby in Arabic. Before long she switched to English (which usually happens here). Then she looked down at the form I was filling out, laughed out loud, and said, "Your Arabic is SO bad!" She couldn't hold back the giggles and said, "It's like when little kids start in Kindergarten." She swiped my pen and went to work correcting my mistakes and my penmanship.

Somebody remind me while I'm bothering trying to learn this language?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Unlikely Lessons from a Counterterrorism Conference

I spent last week in Tel Aviv attending a counterterrorism conference. I don't know much about counterterrorism, but when a fellow military scholar living in Israel told me about the conference, I decided it would be a good opportunity to broaden my education and gain some Israeli perspective. The conference was indeed educational, but not in the ways I expected. I learned more by seeing who participated in the conference and how they thought than from the actual lectures (which I mostly found disappointing).

First, I was shocked how many participants spoke a language I thought was extinct. I repeatedly heard the phrase "War on Terror", which I thought eight years of experience had discredited. The only place I see "GWOT" anymore is in Officer Performance Reports and awards packages, where the military's fondness for cliches and propaganda shines at its brightest. These are not mere words; they represent an entire model for understanding terrorism's nature, its causes, and how to combat it. Many speakers painted the War on Terror in broad black-and-white strokes, pitting the West against a faceless, undifferentiated Muslim enemy that encompasses such varied actors as al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and Muslim immigrants to Europe. If eight years of trying to fight terrorism have taught us anything, it's that there is no monolithic enemy. Terrorism is not an enemy, it is a tool--a tool which a diverse collection of actors utilize to pursue their interests. We certainly must fight those who employ terror against our people, but if we get the basic model wrong--if we ignore vital differentiations and try to fight a monolithic enemy--we will fail. I take this understanding for granted in the US military now. We got past the sloppy language of fighting "terrorists" in Afghanistan and Iraq years ago; now we understand these countries are home to a variety of factions willing to employ violence to achieve their interests. I expected to encounter differences in the counterterrorism field, but I was genuinely surprised to hear so much language that I thought was gone forever.

Second, I was surprised by the almost universal assumption that terrorism is motivated primarily by religion and culture (particularly Islam and Arabic/Islamic culture). Politics rarely entered the lectures. I jotted down one quote as an example: "I'm not talking about politics, I'm talking about terror." Terrorism is absolutely connected to Islamic extremism, and political correctness often prevents us from having necessary discussions about the relationship between Islam and terror. But it is highly debatable whether modern terror is motivated primarily by religion or by politics. One of the better speakers suggested differentiating between root causes (Islamic extremism) and instrumental causes (various political grievances), but even that model is debatable. If I understand The Accidental Guerrilla right, Kilcullen seems to be arguing almost the opposite: that local conflicts are the root cause, but global jihadist groups are very adept at exploiting them to serve their ends. I heard a lot at the conference about "global jihad" and how the terrorists hate us because of our way of life, but once again, this is language I thought we'd left behind. I'm no expert, but I think it would be hard to make the case that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Iranian government are more interested in global jihad than they are in practical political concerns. However, I could be wrong. I took this as a good opportunity to have my own biases exposed, and have fresh motivation to do more research in the coming months.

Third, and related, I was surprised how little attention the conference gave to addressing root causes. It seems intuitive to me that combating terrorism requires a multidimensional strategy. At the most superficial level, you need counterterrorism and intelligence experts to monitor, infiltrate, and break up terrorist organizations. You need to foil terror plots, shut off financial flows, arrest some terrorists, and kill others. But at the same time you need to address political, economic, and social factors that breed new terrorists. Admittedly, that's easier said than done, but if we can't figure out this piece, the world will create terrorists faster than we can kill them. I heard a lot about Palestinian suicide bombers, Hamas rockets, and the effectiveness of the security fence, but I didn't hear the word "settlement" a single time. I'm not saying all of Israel's problems are self-imposed (they aren't) but you can't have a comprehensive discussion about fighting terrorism in Israel unless you're willing to ask some hard questions about Israel's political and strategic vision for its future. The US needs to ask the same types of questions about its role and capabilities in the world (thank you Andrew Bacevich, among others). We have to remember that war serves political goals; it is not an end in itself. That's why this quote from a panelist on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict takes the prize for saying the scariest thing I heard all week: "We have tactics, intelligence, etc. We need just one more thing... what's the goal?"

Fourth, it was interesting to see who participated. I have no idea if this particular conference reflects the counterterrorism field in general, but I suspect the trends are similar. Almost everybody was white. I don't believe a single Arab or Muslim was included among the lecturers or panelists. In fact, I didn't see a single Arab attendee either. Some panels (such as a panel to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) were entirely Israeli. Several politicians showed up to give speeches showing their commitment to fighting terror, supporting Israel, and standing against Iran. During social functions I met a number of what I call "concerned private citizens" who attended. One man runs a private website about global jihad. One firebrand of a woman was lobbying all the US military officers present, trying to convince us that Israel's and the US's strategic interests are one and the same, that Israel is the best ally the US has ever had, and that Israel needs to be accepted into NATO. She also explained to me that I need to be extremely careful in Jordan because its full of terrorists (no, she hasn't been there). When I used the words "West Bank", she stopped me and demanded I say "Judea and Samaria" instead (I didn't). During one panel someone in the audience asked about the potential dangers in having such a narrow, self-selecting group at the conference. The moderator brushed off the question and moved on.

The conference had its good aspects. I am happy that I attended with three other US military officers, because every lecture and panel sparked fascinating conversations and debates. Lunch hours were fantastic. A few of the lectures were excellent and forced me to see issues in new and different ways. Even if I didn't always agree with the presenters, their disregard for political correctness opened up some debates. I also learned a great deal about how Israelis understand terrorism and regional issues. That is exactly the kind of education I want while living in this region... not just to understand the issues, but to learn how Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians understand the issues.

Repost: How the US Government is Blocking the Next Greg Mortensen

Last week I deleted an earlier post that I feared might cross a line into unprofessionalism. This decision was partly prompted by comments from two FAO friends. I spoke with them again later, and while they agreed the post was "ballsy", they believed it was professional and urged me to repost it. Also, the issue at hand--severe travel restrictions rooted in force protection concerns--continues to surface. A couple days after I deleted the post, I was forced to cancel a planned Syria trip because the US government denied me permission to enter the country. On the other hand, senior leaders continue telling me how important cultural immersion is. Today I heard that exact line from an American general officer who plays an important role in Israeli-Palestinian issues. I agree with him, of course, but the rules I'm under make that almost impossible. Some days I feel like the only way I will ever be able to get a comprehensive regional education is to get out of the military. In any case, I feel so strongly about the issue that, with the encouragement of my FAO friends, I decided to repost. Here goes.

A lot of people have been talking about Admiral Mullen's recent article Strategic Communication: Getting Back to Basics. Mullen essentially argues that what we do is more important than what we say; the essence of good communication is "having the right intent up front and letting our actions speak for themselves." Later he writes, "I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all. They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don't follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are."

Meaningful strategic communication is a dialog that runs both ways and must be rooted in human relationships. "We've come to believe that messages are something we can launch downrange like a rocket, something we can fire for effect. They are not. Good communication runs both ways. It's not about telling our story. We must also be better listeners... We can not capture hearts and minds. We must engage them; we must listen to them." This means we must know the culture, needs and hopes of other people. We must engage them one heart and one mind at a time. Mullen approvingly points to Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea, as someone who understands and is living out this kind of strategic communication. Mortensen--a rock climber who has built dozens of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan--has become an unlikely hero within the DOD; I see his name crop up every month or two in military journals or on blogs. If I read Admiral Mullen right, he would love to see more Greg Mortensens in the world and even in the military; men and women who take the time to build cross-cultural relationships, enter into authentic conversation, and engage in the kind of actions that win hearts and minds.

I agree with pretty much everything Admiral Mullen wrote, and am happy to see the essay getting so much attention. However, because of its obsessive focus on force protection and its severe restrictions on employee travel, the US government is actively preventing the emergence of new Greg Mortensens. If Greg Mortensen was a promising, bright-eyed Foreign Service Officer or military officer, he would never have been allowed to set foot in Pakistan.

Let's take a purely hypothetical example. Let's say that you're an Air Force C-17 pilot who spends four years flying missions in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq and studying International Relations. You feel sick in your soul watching the United States make enormous strategic blunders, largely because of the failure of senior policymakers to understand the cultural context of these two countries. Because you care deeply about using your life to build peace, you try to become part of the solution. You compete three years in a row to get a prestigious scholarship that will allow you learn Arabic and spend two years of cultural immersion in Jordan. Your goals are to master the language, earn a Master's Degree at a local university, and get to know the region as intimately as possible. People like Greg Mortensen are your heroes. You hope to live among the people and build relationships in every community you can. So far, so good. A lot of senior officers pat you on the back and tell you how important this kind of immersion is for the US military.

When you arrive in Amman, you find that things aren't quite what you expected. Because you're a military officer, you must abide by strict security measures designed to separate you from the local population. You're handed the keys to a palatial apartment in an area the locals compare to Beverly Hills. Most of your neighbors are American or European diplomats or rich Arabs from the gulf who vacation at their Amman villas during the summer. When you make friends, some of them are embarrassed to visit you because in this culture there is an expectation that they will reciprocate the invitation--and they're embarrassed by their poverty compared to your extravagant wealth. If you want to move to a different region, you need permission from the US Ambassador. You study Arabic at a school where most of the students work for humanitarian NGOs. They're all cash-strapped relief and development workers, and they all live in the poor areas--you know, among the local people. When you tell them where you live, they blink in disbelief. After that they're always a little wary, because they think you must have some dark secret government identity. One of your teachers is absolutely convinced you’re a spy for the CIA.

You attend a security brief, where you're told to avoid East Amman (which constitutes the majority of the city) and Zarqa--Jordan's second biggest city, with a largely Palestinian population that detests American foreign policy but is desperately in need of the kind of engagement Admiral Mullen writes about. Nevertheless, you have some friends in East Amman and Zarqa and visit them as often as possible. You learn very little by hanging out with the English-speaking Jordanians at the local Starbucks, but you learn a tremendous amount from the sheik in East Amman who tries to convince you that a new Islamic Caliphate would be good for the West. In Zarqa you make friends with a local politician who talks at length about how USAID projects mostly pass Zarqa over (you haven't confirmed this). He tells you how much it would do for attitudes towards the US in Zarqa if the US government would invest in projects like health care clinics. He wants your help inviting the US ambassador to his home for a Ramadan feast. He promises to bring ten or fifteen community leaders from Zarqa who are willing to cooperate with the US on these kinds of projects. The idea sounds crazy at first, but then you remember Greg Mortensen, and how crazy that guy is. Maybe you need to be a little crazy to get anything done in this kind of work. You know the Ambassador will never go, but maybe someone from USAID will. You talk to a fellow officer who also knows this Zarqa leader, and it turns out your friend approached USAID with a similar offer a year or two ago. Nobody was interested. Still, you intend to try again.

In the meantime, you decide to travel. You've always loved to travel, so you do what you've always done: you buy a Lonely Planet guide and figure out where you're going. Israel and the West Bank? Piece of cake. You just need a tourist passport and you can get a visa at the border. But wait! Because you're in the military, you have to abide by this document called the Foreign Clearance Guide which has pages of restrictions for each country. To visit Israel you need a country clearance from the US Embassy in Israel and CENTCOM Theater Clearance. The West Bank? Off limits to every single person who wears a US military uniform. Period. That throws a wrench in your research plans, since you want to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while you're here. You have a dozen Jordanian friends who have invited you to visit their families throughout the West Bank, but that is apparently out the window. It's technically possible to visit if you can obtain permission from the US embassy and from a general officer, but word on the street is that this is unlikely to happen--and even if you get permission, you're supposed to travel in an armored car with an Embassy driver. That's not quite the immersion experience you were looking for. You settle for visiting Jerusalem, and spend a weekend with your friend who works for an NGO there. He gives you the same dumbfounded look all your civilian friends in the region give you when you explain the rules. He comes and goes from the West Bank on a regular basis, and it's such a non-event that the military's rules are almost comical. You take what you can get; your friend drives you to a hilltop where he points out various towns and settlements in the West Bank. You're not sure that's what Admiral Mullen means when he talks about winning hearts and minds one at a time, and you're not sure what Greg Mortensen would think. In fact, you think this kind of distant hilltop education might have something to do with why our initial strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq failed.

Across the region, it's the same thing. You plan a week-long trip to Syria. According to Lonely Planet Syria, there's a great daytrip you can take into the Golan Heights. You just need a ticket from a UN office. What if you're in the US military? You need permission from Headquarters Air Force, the office of the Secretary of Defense, and from the State Department--on top of the usual Embassy and theater clearances just to get into the country. (UPDATE: the Golan Heights turns out not to be an issue, because a week before your trip, the US Embassy in Syria denies permission for you to visit the country at all).

What about Lebanon? You know, that country where Abu Muqawama learned Arabic and did graduate research on Hizballah prior to being hired at the Center for New American Security? Off limits. Actually, you're told it might be possible to visit, but only if you never leave the American embassy compound. You think that also might have something to do with why our Iraq strategy failed.

Okay, enough. I could keep going, but you get the point.

I don't want to sound ungrateful. I have a fantastic opportunity with my scholarship, and I'm still learning an extraordinary amount about the language and culture of the region. I also understand that US government agencies--particularly the embassies--have a responsibility to protect their people, and that there are actors here who do intend serious harm to American government employees. All these rules and restrictions are in place for a reason. I get that. I also have tremendous respect for the individual officers who work at our embassies. My colleagues here are fantastic, devoted officers; I'm stunned by the breadth of projects they manage and the stakes for our policy in the region.

With that said, I believe the overall system reflects the same obsessive risk aversion that crippled us early on in Afghanistan and Iraq. Building cross-cultural relationships requires vulnerability, especially if we want to win the hearts and minds of people who don't necessarily like the United States. An obsessive focus on risk aversion makes it impossible to meaningfully engage with another culture. We will never combat anti-Americanism in places like East Amman or Zarqa if we simply tell our people not to visit them. We certainly can't train competent regional experts if we mark entire countries off limits. By blocking access to countries that are remotely dangerous, we are hurting our competency and expertise in the regions that need it most. The first and only time American most soldiers set foot in these countries is when they're participating in operational missions.

What practical recommendations do I have? At the very least, the military should create a more lenient set of rules for officers serving in immersion programs such as Olmsted scholars, Foreign Area Officers, and PME exchange officers. Given that these officers are training to become regional experts, they deserve the amount of freedom that a nineteen year-old American backpacker has. It makes sense for embassies to maintain visibility on which military personnel are visiting their country, but I would like to see immersed officers be their own decision authority on where they travel, especially when on leave. I'd even like to go farther, and relax leave travel restrictions for every military officer. If Americans are free to visit Lebanon or Jordan and a 2nd Lieutenant or NCO wants to plan a trip, let him. Risk could be mitigated with mandatory training or security briefs rather than blanket travel bans. Chances are, the kinds of officers who voluntarily visit Lebanon or Jordan aren't going to be troublemakers looking for a good time; I'll bet nine times out of ten they will be thoughtful officers looking for broader international experience.

We also need to understand why the current system encourages risk aversion. When US embassy officials are held personally responsible for the safety of US government employees who visit their country, they bear all the risks and none of the rewards. The risks are all too obvious. If an officer gets kidnapped or killed in the West Bank or Lebanon, it could destroy careers. The gains of a relaxed travel policy--a more educated and cross-cultural officer force--are spread broadly and will not benefit the immediate decision-makers at all. On the flip side, the damage done by an overly restrictive travel policy--such as hurting our ability to engage with cultures that need it most--is also widely spread and does not directly affect decisionmakers. This dynamic is especially harmful when it takes ten people to say "yes" and only one person to say "no." I see this as analogous to the situation of the US Army early on in Iraq; strategic success required putting troops in harm's way (among the population), but evaluation systems rewarded commanders for simply keeping their troops alive. Fighting this kind of bureaucratic trap requires a clear understanding of the problem and strong leadership from the top. The culture must change so that decisionmakers understand the big picture, and so that decisions serving strategic success are properly rewarded--even if they entail risk.

Do we want to implement Admiral Mullen's vision of officers who live out strategic communication through cross-cultural conversations? Do we want more Greg Mortensens in the world, particularly in the government? Then we need to find a better balance of security and freedom, which gives internationally-minded officers the breathing space necessary to make relationships--especially in the troubled regions that need them most.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More on Augmented Reality

In a comment on my previous post, one of my readers pointed out that the military has invested a great deal of money in augmented realty projects like "DARPA's ULTRA-Vis project, ARA's related iLeader system, and the HUD contract given to Lockheed-Martin and subcontracted to Microvision." He assures me that the military is way ahead of the rest of the world with augmented reality research. I appreciate the information on these projects, but I stand by my original post. Despite the military's lead on AR hardware and applications, I believe civilian world technology will quickly overrun it. Here's why.

Augmented reality is not merely a piece of hardware or a software application; it is a new medium in which thousands of innovative applications can run and a virtually limitless torrent of information can be processed and displayed. Its capabilities are limited only by the imaginations of developers.

From what I can see, the military's approach to AR is to build a proprietary piece of hardware and program it with a fixed set of capabilities: "We're going to build a system that lets you display this kind of data, give these commands to your troops, etc." This follows the traditional pattern of military contracting, is generally very expensive, and is difficult and slow to change or upgrade.

The civilian world's approach is quite different. AR's primitive platforms are Android and the iPhone. With Android, Google has said, "We're designing a completely open platform that has a GPS, a magnetic compass, inclinometers and accelerometers, graphics hardware, and full access to the Internet. We're also giving you all the tools to program it yourself (for free). How you use it is entirely up to you. To encourage innovation, we're running a contest with $2 million in prizes. Now... Go unleash your creative potential and design something cool!" Within a year we have programs like Layar that can overlay virtually any kind of information as layers over the real world, or like Wikitude that can display geotagged Wikipedia data. The hardware is certainly not as elegant as a a DARPA or Microvision HUD, but in some ways, the capability is already greater than any proprietary military system. As hardware improves, the capability will grow. As new technology becomes available--HUD glasses or contact lenses, better voice recognition, gesture sensing, image recognition, even thought-controlled interfaces--companies like Google that understand crowdsourcing will put this technology into the hands of the crowd. The crowd will generate more novel applications, at a much quicker pace, than a small team of employees working for a defense contractor on a single proprietary project. As the technology enters the mainstream, it will bring fundamental changes to society.

I want to emphasize how radical I believe this new technology is. I believe we're at the beginning of a major technological shift. Until now, we have always viewed the digital world through small rectangular screens; now the digital world is about to flood out into the real world. Instead of designing new worlds in online games like Second Life, graphic designers and gamers will be able to "skin" the real world with photorealistic 3D imaginative overlays. Instead of video chatting with my parents on a flat screen using Skype, I could soon be speaking with 3D representations of them who appear to be sitting right in front of me. Throughout my day, I could simply look at things--a historical landmark, a new book I'm thinking about buying, a new restaurant--and instantaneously view a wealth of data online. Instead of texting with his thumbs (that's SO 2009, dad!) my son will grow up composing messages to his friends in his head. Pilots could pull up approach plates and see 3D projections of glideslopes and localizers, a car mechanic could take one look under a hood and pull up the relevant specs and order necessary parts, a doctor could have his entire medical library at a patient's bedside, and a police officer or secret service agent could see flashing visual cues when a weapon appears in a crowd. This is not merely a new piece of hardware; it's a new way of life.

To summarize, a proprietary piece of hardware running proprietary software will be able to do just one thing: the task its designers create it to do. An open AR platform--just like a computer or an iPhone--is an open platform that can do whatever its users want. Yes, it's primitive, but expect to see the technology mature rapidly. There is certainly a place for proprietary technology, especially in the military--we rely on all sorts of propretiary technology every day--but if we do not keep stride with developments in the broader mobile/AR world, our capabilities will fall far behind. The reason I raised my concerns in my previous post is because the military tends to lag at adopting new technologies embraced by the civilian world; in some cases (blogs and social networking), it actively resists them. If futurists like Ray Kurzweil are right, the rate of technological development and accompanying social change is accelerating at an exponential rate. This means the US military will pay an increasingly high price if it does not learn how to recognize and adopt emerging technologies from the civilian world.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Mobile Technology and Military Preparedness

My readers probably noticed I mostly vanished from this blog for about a month. Part of the reason is that I've been busy programming. At the start of the summer I decided I wanted to buy a new cutting-edge cell phone. After a month of agonizing over whether or not I should buy an iPhone, I ultimately decided to gamble on its alternative: the HTC Hero, which is built on Google's Android operating system. Most people don't even know what Android is--my tech-savvy father hadn't heard of it--and it only controls about 2% of the US market. But with around 20 new Android phones entering the market this year (including the Hero, which is the first Android phone elegant enough to rival the iPhone), Android has the potential to become a major player in the cell phone market.

What makes Android distinctive is Google's radical commitment to open source. Apple tightly controls the iPhone and has a rigid, multi-step process to deploy software applications, which includes Apple personally reviewing and authorizing each app. Google takes the opposite approach; anybody who wants to can download free open source software development tools and the Android SDK and get to work. Programmers have access to all Android's hardware. They can distribute their apps however they want--through Google Market, through third party markets, or by directly sending their apps to customers. It's an attractive business model for information junkies like me, who have grown up in a digital world committed to the free flow of information. Android is a platform for innovation. It opens up mobile development to the masses.

To foster innovation and build support for the platform, Google has held a contest for the last two years with $2 million in prizes. Winners from the first year are showcased here. The deadline for the second annual contest was August 31st. My phone arrived around August 20th, so I made a last-minute decision to enter the contest. I spent a frantic two weeks teaching myself Java and the Android Software Development Kit, then developing a flashcard program designed for language learners. The process culminated with a three-day programming binge where I scarcely saw my family. At 3:00 am on the final night (a few hours before the deadline in this time zone) I fired off the app.

So what does Android programming have to do with war and peace? Mobile phones have already transformed societies across the world. The rapid technological advances brought by the iPhone and Android are changing it even more. And the next-generation devices I expect to see within a few years will have ramifications we can scarcely imagine. For those who care about issues of war and peace, this technology will bring important opportunities--and significant challenges. The high velocity of change will require rapid organizational learning. Organizations that learn quickly will reap immense rewards; organizations that don't learn will fall rapidly behind.

Discussions in the military about cyberspace tend to focus on securing existing networks against existing vulnerabilities, but I don't ever hear much about how organizational preparation to integrate and exploit new technology. I hope these discussions are happening somewhere; if not, we are in serious trouble. I've written several times about about the declining utility of military networks (here and here for example, particularly in the wake of the thumb drive ban. Military networks are so severely curtailed that I prefer to avoid them entirely, if possible. Since the ban was imposed, I've come to appreciate the severity of the security threats that US military networks face. I don't know what the right balance is between openness and security, but the current security posture is squelching capabilities that I rely on every day in my civilian life: for example, reading blogs, copying data, synch'ing my e-mail on a mobile devices, and using Google to quickly and easily find answers to questions.

So what new technologies do I think the military unprepared to integrate? Mobile devices, for starters. It is conceivable that, in our lifetime, nearly every person in the world could have access to all the world's information on a handheld device. Even more significant innovations are around the corner. A few days ago I read that researchers have found a way to project data onto contact lenses. A video game company is developing a game controller that reads your thoughts (yes, it actually works). You can already find clothing that has memory sewn in. This combination of techology means we could soon be "wearing" our Internet instead of carrying cell phones. By the time my infant son is a teenager, I fully expect the Internet will be the natural medium in which he lives, socializes, and works--and it will mostly be in his head. These developments will happen organically in civilian society as technology improves. In the military, however, integrating each new technology will require extensive debate, policy changes, and bold leadership from the top. Look at how long it has taken the military to adopt blogs and social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter--and even now, some services are still blocking access. Same thing with cell phones. Unless you are one of a handful of commanders issued a Blackberry, you probably can't connect your phone to a military network (and look what at the battle Obama had to fight just to use his Blackberry). If twenty years from now the average American is walking around permanently wired to the Internet, our military members will be at a significant disadvantage if they have to sit down at an ancient, boxy computer to do business.

A second area the military lags is simple information sharing. Thanks to the civilian world's commitment to openness, most major web applications allow easy exchange of information. My new phone has an innovative user interface that pulls information from Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, Outlook, and Gmail into one set of contacts. When I view a friend in my contact list I can call him, write him an e-mail, view his Flickr photo albums, and see his Facebook status and any recent Twitters. A lot of the winning Android apps from last year's contest mash together data from a variety of sources to produce new results. Consider "CompareEverywhere"--you just scan a product barcode with your phone's camera, and the program lists prices, reviews, and local stores carrying the product. Government programs and databases, however, are rarely designed to cooperate together. This may be changing, fortunately. I read a fascinating article today about a Silicon Valley startup that is designing search tools that pull data from a variety of intelligence databases (How Team of Geeks Cracked Spy Trade). It's noteworthy that this technology comes not from a traditional government contractor, but from a quirky tech company resembling Google.

The third area I see a lack of military foresight is augmented reality. I expect to see a major shift in the next few years; instead of viewing data on computer or mobile screens, most people will view data overlaid on top of the real world. The iPhone and Android have already give us some amazing applications showcasing the possibilities. With a video camera, a GPS, a magnetic compass, and inclinometers, you can use a cell phone as a heads-up display. My favorite augmented reality program is Google Sky. I can point my phone up at the stars, and the program shows me exactly what I'm looking at. If I want to find Mars, I can do a search. The phone will show arrows to guide me in towards the planet. Other programs like Layar overlay all kinds of information over the daily world. I could conceivably point my phone at a restaurant, and see contact information, hours, and customer reviews. Or if I'm touring a historical site somewhere, I could look through my phone and see tags overlaid on key objects with links to Wikipedia articles. This technology will become even more significant once displays move to glasses or contact lenses. The author of this article has this dream: "[I want] to be able to walk into crowded cocktail party, and know exactly who I am looking at -- names, last time we met, and other pertinent information like names of spouses or kids. I want that information beamed into my field of vision, in text floating over their heads, like the health indicators over the bad guys in a computer game." The technology is not that far off. I'll leave the military applications to your imagination, but this technology will only work when mobile and wearable devices are fully integrated into military n