118. The Future of Learning: Personalized, Continuous, and Accelerated

[Editor’s Note: At the Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference with Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies in Washington, DC, Leading scientists, innovators, and scholars gathered to discuss how humans will receive, process, and integrate  information in the future.  The convergence  of technology, the speed of change, the generational differences of new Recruits, and the uncertainty of the Future Operational Environment will dramatically alter the way Soldiers and Leaders learn in 2050.  One clear signal generated from this conference is that learning in the future will be personalized, continuous, and accelerated.]

Personalized Learning

The principal consequence of individual differences is that every general law of teaching has to be applied with consideration of the particular person.” – E.L. Thorndike (1906)

The world is becoming increasingly personalized, and individual choice and preference drives much of daily life, from commerce, to transportation, to entertainment. For example, your Amazon account today can keep your payment information on file (one click away), suggest new products based on your purchase history, and allow you to shop from anywhere and ship to any place, all while tracking your purchase every step of the way, including providing photographic proof of delivery. Online retailers, personal transportation services, and streaming content providers track and maintain an unprecedented amount of specific individual information to deliver a detailed and personalized experience for the consumer.

There is an opportunity to improve the effectiveness in targeted areas of learning – skills training, foundational learning, and functional training, for example – if learning institutions and organizations, as well as learners, follow the path of personalization set by commerce, transportation, and entertainment.1 This necessitates an institutional shift in the way we educate Soldiers. Instead of training being administered based on rank or pre-determined schedule, it is conducted based on need, temporally optimized for maximum absorption and retention, in a style that matches the learner, and implemented on the battlefield, if needed.

An important facet of personalized learning is personal attention to the learner. Tutors have been used in education for 60,000 years.2 However, they always have been limited to how many educators could devote their attention to one student. With advancements in AI, intelligent tutors could reduce the cost and manpower requirements associated with one-on-one instructor to student ratios. Research indicates that students who have access to tutors as opposed to exclusive classroom instruction were more effective learners as seen in the chart below. In other words, the average tutored student performed better than 98 percent of the students in the traditional classroom.3 What was a problem of scale in the past – cost, manpower, time – can be alleviated in the future through the use of AI-enabled ubiquitous intelligent tutors.

Another aspect of personalized learning is the diminishing importance of geo-location. Education, in general, has traditionally been executed in a “brick and mortar” setting. The students, learners, or trainees physically travel to the location of the teacher, expert, or trainer in order for knowledge to be imparted. Historically, this was the only viable option. However, a hyper-connected world with enabling technologies like virtual and augmented reality; high-bandwidth networks with low latency; high fidelity modeling, simulations, and video; and universal interfaces reduces or eliminates the necessity for physical co-location. This allows Soldiers to attend courses hosted virtually anywhere, participate in combined arms and Joint exercises globally, and experience a variety of austere and otherwise inaccessible environments through virtual and augmented reality.4

Based on these trends and emerging opportunities to increase efficiency, the Army may have to re-evaluate its educational and training frameworks and traditional operational practices to adjust for more individualized and personalized learning styles. When personalized learning is optimized, Soldiers could become more lethal, specially skilled, and decisive along a shorter timeline, using lesser budget resources, and with reduced manpower.

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning, or the process of repeatedly engaging in activities designed to learn new information or skills, is a natural process that will remain necessary for Soldiers and Leaders in 2050. The future workforce will define and drive when, where, and how learning takes place. Continuous learning has the advantage of allowing humans to learn from past mistakes and understand biases by “working the problem” – assessing and fixing biases, actively changing behavior to offset biases, moving on to decision-making, and then returning to work the problem again for further solutions. Learners must be given the chance to fail, and failure must be built in to the continuous learning process so that the learner not only arrives at the solution organically, but practices critical thinking and evaluation skills.5

There are costs and caveats to successful continuous learning. After a skill is learned, it must be continually practiced and maintained. Amy Titus explained how skills perish after 3-5 years unless they are updated to meet present needs and circumstances. In an environment of rapidly changing technology and situational dynamics, keeping skills up to date must be a conscious and nonstop process. One of the major obstacles to continuous learning is that learning is work and requires a measure of self-motivation to execute. Learners only effectively learn if they are curious, so learning to pass a class or check a box does not yield the same result as genuine interest in the subject.6 New approaches such as gamification and experiential learning can help mitigate some of these limitations.

Accelerated Learning

The concept of accelerated learning, or using a compressed timeline and various approaches, methodologies, or technological means to maximize learning, opens up several questions: what kinds of technologies accelerate learning, and how does technology accelerate learning? Technologies useful for accelerated learning include the immersive reality spectrum – virtual reality/augmented reality (mixed reality) and haptic feedback – as well as wearables, neural stimulation, and brain mapping. These technologies and devices enable the individualization and personalization of learning. Individualization allows the learner to identify their strengths and weaknesses in learning, retaining, and applying information and provides a program structured to capitalize on his/her naturally favored learning style to maximize the amount and depth of information presented in the most time and cost-effective manner.

Digital learning platforms are important tools for the tracking of a Soldier’s progress. This tool not only delivers individualized progress reports to superiors and instructors, but also allows the learner to remain up to date regardless of their physical location. Intelligent tutors may be integrated into a digital learning platform, providing real-time, individual feedback and suggesting areas for improvement or those in need of increased attention. Intelligent tutors and other technologies utilized in the accelerated learning process, such as augmented reality, can be readily adapted to a variety of situations conforming to the needs of a specific unit or mission.

Besides external methods of accelerated learning, there are also biological techniques to increase the speed and accuracy of learning new skills. DARPA scientist Dr. Tristan McClure-Begley introduced Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT), whereby the peripheral nervous system is artificially stimulated resulting in the rapid acquisition of a specific skill. Soldiers can learn movements and retain that muscle memory faster than the time it would take to complete many sets of repetitions by pairing nerve stimulation with the performance of a physical action.

Accelerated learning does not guarantee positive outcomes. There is a high initial startup cost to producing mixed, augmented, and virtual reality training programs, and these programs require massive amounts of data and inputs for the most realistic product.7 There are questions about the longevity and quality of retention when learning is delivered through accelerated means. About 40 percent of information that humans receive is forgotten after 20 minutes and another 40 percent is lost after 30 days if it is not reinforced.8

Most learners attribute mastery of a skill to practical application and not formal training programs.9 TNT attempts to mitigate this factor by allowing for multiple physical repetitions to be administered quickly. But this technique must be correctly administered, or psychological and physiological pairing may not occur correctly or occur between the wrong stimuli, creating maladaptive plasticity, which is training the wrong behavior.

An increased emphasis on continuous and accelerated learning could present the Army with an opportunity to have Soldiers that are lifelong learners capable of quickly picking up emerging required skills and knowledge. However, this focus would need to account for peak learner interest and long-term viability.

If you enjoyed this post, please also watch Dr. Dexter Fletcher‘s video presentation on Digital Mentors and Tutors and Dr. Tristan McClure-Begley‘s presentation on Targeted Neuroplasticity Training from of the Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference

… see the following related blog posts:

… and read The Mad Scientist Learning in 2050 Conference Final Report.

1 Smith-Lewis, Andrew, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

2 Fletcher, Dexter, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

3 https://www.edsurge.com/news/2014-08-10-personalization-and-the-2-sigma-problem

4 Titus, Amy, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

5 Taylor, Christopher, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 9 August 2018

6 Masie, Elliott, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

7 Hill, Randall, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 9 August 2018

8 Goodwin, Gregory, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

9 Masie, Elliott, Mad Scientist Conference: Learning in 2050, Georgetown University, 8 August 2018

95. Takeaways Learned about the Future of the AI Battlefield

On 10 October 2018, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) G-2’s Mad Scientist Initiative launched a crowdsourcing exercise to explore the possibilities and impacts of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the future battlefield. For good reason, much has been made of AI and Machine Learning (ML) and their use in enabling lethal autonomy on the battlefield. While this is an important topic, AI’s potential application is much broader and farther, enabling future warfare at machine speed and disrupting human-centered battlefield rhythms.

Mad Scientist received submissions from approximately 115 participants, affiliated with military units, Government agencies, private tech companies, academia, and a number of non-DoD/Government associated sources. These submissions were diverse and rich in depth, clarity, and quality.  We distilled them into the following eight cross-cutting takeaways impacting every aspect of the future battlefield:

  • Invisible AI:

AI will be so pervasive across the battlefield that most of its functions and processes will take place without warfighters and commanders noticing. There won’t be an On/Off button per se, similar to cellular service, smart device functions, or cyber operations. The wide proliferation of AI entities from devices to platforms to even wearables means it will not be an isolated domain, but rather will permeate ubiquitously and seamlessly across the battlefield.

  • Speed it Up:

AI will not only speed up existing processes and cycles – i.e., the military decision-making process (MDMP), the intelligence cycle, the targeting cycle – but it will also likely transform them. Many of these cycles and processes have evolved and proven their effectiveness in a human-centric environment. Some contain consecutive steps that may no longer be necessary when tasks are assigned to intelligent machines. Critical, time-sensitive, but often tedious work that is carried out by hundreds of military staff members in many hours could be accomplished in minutes by AI, leading to flattened command structures, smaller staffs, and significant demand and signature reduction on the battlefield. All of this will result in battlefield optimization and will induce hyperactivity in combat – rapidly changing battlefield rhythms.

  • Coup d’œil / Freeing up Warfighters and Commanders:

AI intelligence systems and entities conducting machine speed collection, collation, and analysis of battlefield information will free up warfighters and commanders to do what they do best — fight and make decisions, respectively. Commanders can focus on the battle with coup d’œil, or the “stroke of an eye,” maintaining situational awareness without consuming precious time crunching data. Additionally, AI’s ability to quickly sift through and analyze the plethora of input received from across the battlefield, fused with the lessons learned data from thousands of previous engagements, will lessen the commander’s dependence on having had direct personal combat experience with conditions similar to his current fight when making command decisions.

  • Spectrum Management and Common Operational Picture (COP):

The future battlefield will be increasingly complex with the cyber, air, and space domains, as well as electromagnetic spectrum becoming difficult to see, manage, and deconflict. Exacerbating this problem is the enormous growth of the Internet of Things – eventually the Internet of Everything – and even more importantly, the Internet of Battlefield Things. AI will be critical in processing and sustaining a clear COP in this overwhelmingly data-rich environment of sensors, emitters, systems, and networks.

  • Learning Things and Collaborative Entities:

AI will facilitate a host of new learning things on the battlefield – i.e., weapon systems, munitions, vehicles, wearables [exo-skeletons] – and a multitude of collaborative entities – sensors, systems, and platforms. This battlespace of learning things will not supplant our need for Soldiers that use and operate them, but it will enhance them as Warfighters.

  • Resilient and Layered AI:  

 In order to effectively utilize AI across the battlefield, the Army will need resilient and layered AI, including on-board services, localized collaborative systems, and cloud services that do not rely on persistent connectivity. Some AI entities will need to be proliferated at the tactical level, creating a veritable network that can still effectively operate with degraded/disrupted nodes.

  • New Required Capabilities and Skillsets:

The advent of AI across the battlefield will require a multitude of new capabilities and skillsets to implement, maintain, and maximize AI entities. As with the contemporary drive to recruit Cyber talent into the ranks, the Army must plan on competing with the private sector for the most talented and capable recruits in new AI job fields.

  • Adversarial Risk:

A capability / vulnerability paradox is inherent with AI, with its machine speed capabilities being vulnerable to the vast array of data input sources that it needs to operate. AI’s underpinning data and algorithms are vulnerable to spoofing, degradation, or other forms of subversion. This could lead to the erosion of Soldier and Leader trust in AI, and also necessitates more transparency to strengthen the man-machine relationship. Enemies will seek to exploit this relationship and trust.


These takeaways illustrate the many ways AI can be implemented across the future battlefield. Machine speed warfare will be enabled by AI; it will not be limited to just lethal autonomy. The functions of so many other parts of combat – C2, ISR, sustainment, medical, etc. – can be accelerated and improved; not just “warheads on foreheads.”

While we explored where AI could enhance battlefield operations, there are also implicit considerations that must be accounted for in the future. These include the ethical dilemmas and concerns associated with employing AI in so many different ways. Lethal autonomy is a hot button issue due to its life or death implications. However, AI assisting other warfighter functions will also have significant impacts on the battlefield.

A second major consideration is what impact AI has on Army learning and training. The Army will not only have to incorporate the subject of AI in its learning but will also utilize AI in its learning. Additionally, AI will be required to support Field Training Exercises and other major training events to work through all of the second and third order effects resulting from a much more compressed battle rhythm.

Mad Scientist is extremely appreciative of all the feedback and submissions received. We intend for this product to be used in future wargaming events, future horizon scanning, and the general framing of future thinking and planning for the development and use of AI systems and entities.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please read the entire Crowdsourcing the Future of the AI Battlefield paper, including the highlights of ideas binned into categories supporting upcoming Army Wargames on Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance; Logistics; and Command and Control.

33. Can TV and Movies Predict the Battlefield of the Future?

(Editor’s Note: Mad Scientist Laboratory is pleased to present Dr. Peter Emanuel’s guest blog post, illustrating how popular culture often presages actual technological advancements and scientific breakthroughs.)

Did Dick Tracy’s wrist watch telephone or Star Trek’s communicator inspire future generations of scientists and engineers to build today’s smartphone? Or were they simply depicting the inevitable manifestation of future technology? If we look back on old issues of Superman comic books that depict a 3D printer half a century before it was invented, we can see popular media has foreshadowed future technology, time and time again. Clearly, there are many phenomena, from time travel to force fields, that have not, and may not ever see the light of day; however, there are enough examples to suggest that dedicated and forward thinking scientists, trying to defend the United States, should consider this question:

Can comic books, video games, television, and movies give us a glimpse into the battlefield of the future?

For today’s Mad Scientist blog, consider what the future may hold for defense against weapons of mass destruction.

Let’s get the 800 lb. gorilla out of the room first! Or, perhaps, the 800 lb. dinosaur by talking about biological warfare in the future. The movie Jurassic Park depicts the hubris of man trying to control life by “containing” its DNA. Our deeper understanding of DNA shows us that life is programmed to be redundant and error prone. It’s actually a fundamental feature that drives evolution. In the year 2050, if we are to control our genetically modified products, we must master containment and control for a system designed since the dawn of time to NOT be contained. Forget bio-terror…What about bio-Error?! Furthermore, the lesson in Jurassic Park from the theft of the frozen dinosaur eggs shows us the asymmetric impact that theft of genetic products can yield. Today, our adversaries amass databases on our genetic histories through theft and globalization and one only has to ask, “What do they know that we should be worried about?”

Let’s move from biology to chemistry. A chemist will argue that biology is just chemistry, and at some level it’s true. Like the movie Outlander and anime like Cowboy Bebop, today’s Middle East battlefield shows the use of CAPTAGON, an addictive narcotic blend used to motivate and subjugate radical Islamists. In 2050, our mastery of tailored chemistry will likely lead to more addictive or targeted drug use that could elicit unpredictable or illogical behaviors. Controlled delivery of mood/behavior altering drugs will frustrate efforts to have a military workforce managed by reliability programs and will require layered and redundant controls even on trusted populations. Such vulnerabilities will likely be a justification for placing weapons and infrastructure under some level of artificial intelligence in the year 2050. Imagine this is the part of the blog where we talked about the Terminator and CyberDyne Systems.

Today, the thought of man-machine interfaces depicted by the Borg from Star Trek and the TV shows such as Aeon Flux and Ghost in the Shell may make our skin crawl. In 2050, societal norms will likely evolve to embrace these driven by the competitive advantage that implants and augmentation affords. Cyborgs and genetic chimeras will blur the line between what is man and what is machine; it will usher in an era when a computer virus can kill, and it will further complicate our ability to identify friend from foe in a way best depicted by the recent Battlestar Galactica TV show. Will the point of need manufacturing systems of the future be soulless biological factories like those depicted in Frank Herbert’s book series, “Dune”? As we prepare for engaging in a multi-domain battlespace by extending our eyes and ears over the horizon with swarming autonomous drones are we opening a window into the heart and mind of our future fighting force?

Some final thoughts for the year 2050 when we maintain a persistent presence off planet Earth. As Robert Heinlein predicted, and recent NASA experiments proved, our DNA changes during prolonged exposure to altered gravity. What of humans who never stepped foot on Earth’s surface, as shown in the recent movie, The Fate of our Stars. Eventually, non-terrestrially based populations will diverge from the gene pool, perhaps kindling a debate on what is truly human? Will orbiting satellites with hyperkinetic weapons such as were pictured in GI Joe Retaliation add another dimension to the cadre of weapons of mass destruction? I would argue that popular media can help spur these discussions and give future mad scientists a glimpse into the realm of the possible. To that end, I think we can justify a little binge watching in the name of national security!

If you enjoyed this post, please check out the following:

– Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is co-sponsoring the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference with SRI International at Menlo Park, California, on 08-09 March 2018. Click here to learn more about the conference, the associated on-line game, and then watch the live-streamed proceedings, starting at 0840 PST / 1140 EST on 08 March 2018.

– Our friends at Small Wars Journal are continuing to publish the finalists from our most recent Call for Ideas — click here to check them out!

Dr. Peter Emanuel is the Army’s Senior Research Scientist (ST) for Bioengineering. In this role, he advises Army Leadership on harnessing the opportunities that synthetic biology and biotechnology can bring to National Security.

31. Top Ten Bio Convergence Trends Impacting the Future Operational Environment

As Mad Scientist Laboratory has noted in previous blog posts, War is an intrinsically human endeavor. Rapid innovations in the biological sciences are changing how we work, live, and fight. Drawing on the past two years of Mad Scientist events, we have identified a change in the character of war driven by the exponential convergence of bio, neuro, nano, quantum, and information. This convergence is leading to revolutionary achievements in sensing, data acquisition and retrieval, and computer processing hardware; creating a new environment in which humans must co-evolve with these technologies. Mad Scientist has identified the following top ten bio convergence trends associated with this co-evolution that will directly impact the Future Operational Environment (OE).

1) Bio convergence with advanced computing is happening at the edge. Humans will become part of the network connected through their embedded and worn devices. From transhumanism to theorizing about uploading the brain, the Future OE will not be an internet of things but the internet of everything (including humans).

2) The next 50 years will see an evolution in human society; we will be augmented by Artificial Intelligence (AI), partner with AI in centaur chess fashion, and eventually be eclipsed by AI.

3) This augmentation and enhanced AI partnering will require hyper-connected humans with wearables and eventually embeddables to provide continuous diagnostics and human-machine interface.

4) The Army will need to measure cognitive potential and baseline neural activity of its recruits and Soldiers.

5) The Army needs new training tools to take advantage of neuralplasticity and realize the full cognitive potential of Soldiers. Brain gyms and the promise of Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) training sets could accelerate learning and, in some cases, challenge the tyranny of “the 10,000 hour rule.”

6) Human enhancement, the unlocking of the genome, and improving AI will stress the Army’s policies and ethics. In any case, potential adversaries are exploring using all three of these capabilities as a way to gain advantage over U.S. Forces. This is not a 2050 problem but more than likely a 2030 reality.

7) Asymmetric Ethics, where adversaries make choices we will not (e.g., manipulating the DNA of pathogens to target specific genome populations or to breed “super” soldiers) will play a bigger part in the future. This is not new, but will be amplified by future technologies. Bio enhancements will be one of the areas and experimentation is required to determine our vulnerabilities.

8) Cognitive enhancement and attacking the human brain (neurological system) is not science fiction. The U.S. Army should establish a Program Executive Office (PEO) for Soldier Enhancement to bring unity of purpose to a range of possibilities from physical/mental enhancement with wearables, embeddables, stimulants, brain gyms, and exoskeletons.

9) Chemical and bio defense will need to be much more sophisticated on the next battlefield. The twin challenges of democratization and proliferation have resulted in a world where the capability of engineering potentially grave bio-weapons, once only the purview of nation states and advance research institutes and universities, is now available to Super-Empowered Individuals, Violent Non-State Actors (VNSA), and criminal organizations.

10) We are missing the full impact of bio on all emerging trends. We must focus beyond human enhancement and address how bio is impacting materials, computing, and garage level, down scaled innovation.

Headquarters, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) is co-sponsoring the Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050 Conference with SRI International at Menlo Park, California, on 08-09 March 2018. Click here to learn more about the conference and then watch the live-streamed proceedings, starting at 0840 PST / 1140 EST on 08 March 2018.

Also note that our friends at Small Wars Journal have published the first paper from our series of Soldier 2050 Call for Ideas finalists — enjoy!