The job of the intelligence services these days is much more about desk-based analysis than it is speedboats, exploding pens and bullet-proof Aston Martins.
To help address some of the many challenges this presents, the University of Dundee’s Centre for Argument Technology is pioneering new ways of working with evidence to build hypotheses and challenge cognitive bias.
The work has been supported as part of a major new funding programme from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory over the coming year.
Professor Chris Reed, project lead in the Centre for Argument Technology, said, “Integrating and sifting the vast amounts of information that are available and fed in to intelligence reports often requires large teams of intelligence analysts working together to understand and build insight into complex situations.
“But there are equivalents to the decapitating bowler hats and concealed poison blades here too: cognitive biases are the lethal traps of today’s intelligence work.
“Argumentation is a fundamental skill and an important part of addressing these challenges. Teams of intelligence analysts lift it to a fine art. Our goal is to take cutting-edge results from argument technology to provide them with the very best support for what they do.
“Though James Bond might get all the attention, it is the job of the intelligence analyst that is critical – and that’s where our experience can really make a difference.”
One key challenge to be tackled by the team is how to navigate vast networks of connected pieces of evidence that underpin new hypotheses – how to find the critical clue that constitutes the missing part of the reasoning puzzle.
Dr Jacky Visser, a co-investigator on the work, explained, “The Centre for Argument Technology has been at the forefront of developing innovative artificial intelligence and visualisation techniques for human reasoning at the very largest scales of major law suits and even national debates, and working with the intelligence community represents an exciting opportunity to support and improve reasoning in one of the most critical areas of government activity.”
The project runs until March 2021 and is delivering the first tranche of results through the coming year to the Ministry of Defence’s SERAPIS Framework, a £300m investment in defence and intelligence capability.
Nobel Prize winning poet and honorary graduate Seamus Heaney has described the University of Dundee as ‘having its head in the clouds and its feet firmly on the ground.’ The ability to be both aspirational and down-to earth and to blend ground-breaking intellectual achievement with practical applications, has given the University its distinctive character.