This growing interest in electromagnetic weapons explains the military’s interest in preparing defenses. “An aircraft carrier [is] a huge emitter, and anytime you have an antenna putting stuff out, those then become targets,” says Fulghum. “Any emitter that can send stuff out, can have stuff put into it.”
It also helps explain the US Navy’s – perhaps unconventional - approach of using a crowdsourcing game to finding potential solutions to electromagnetic warfare.
‘Zombies in hyperspace’
The idea of MMOWGLI was to attract a wide group of people to come up with ways to help the military prepare for electromagnetic and cyber warfare. Unlike previous crowd-sourcing games sponsored by the navy and open to the public, such as one focusing on counter-piracy, the electromagnetic warfare game was limited only to those with a military or government email account. The explanation, says Don Brutzman, a professor as the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, was because of the sensitive nature of the subject.
While the game itself was unclassified, Brutzman, who helped run the game, says keeping it “limited access” introduced a layer of security. “It’s quite easy for players to go classified in a hurry,” he says. “As soon as you talk about this radar, or that antenna—the numbers and vulnerabilities—that’s classified.”
While designed as a “game,” MMOWGLI may fall far short of many people’s idea of entertainment.
“It’s not a shoot ‘em up, let’s go blast zombies in hyperspace,” cautions Brutzman. “It’s people typing ideas and interacting with each other.”
In reality, players submitted an idea, such as a way to bolster US defenses, winning points based on the number of discussion and response that their submission generates.
So what exactly can crowdsourcing do for improving electromagnetic-cyber warfare? It’s not completely clear: though the naval researchers involved in the project did post some examples of award winning concepts, at least some, such as a method for secure communication, cannot be discussed in an open forum.
While limiting it to government officials and members of the military may make the game sound less like an experiment in true crowdsourcing, Rebecca Law, a research associate at the MovesInstitute at the Naval Postgraduate School and a game administrator, points out that it still had over 200 active players. And the anonymity granted to players online allowed them to propose ideas without regard to their status or rank. “I believe it makes the information accessible when it’s done in a game-like fashion,” she said.
But more importantly, using a game with points and winners encourages a creative mindset. “They want to have great ideas,” she says. “They want to win.”
Whether they will , time will tell.