Minds and Machines

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 53–77

Limited Rationality in Action: Decision Support for Military Situation Assessment

  • Authors
  • Kathryn Blackmond Laskey
  • Bruce D'Ambrosio
  • Tod S. Levitt
  • Suzanne Mahoney

DOI: 10.1023/A:1008398822124

Cite this article as:
Blackmond Laskey, K., D'Ambrosio, B., Levitt, T.S. et al. Minds and Machines (2000) 10: 53. doi:10.1023/A:1008398822124


Information is a force multiplier. Knowledge of the enemy's capability and intentions may be of far more value to a military force than additional troops or firepower. Situation assessment is the ongoing process of inferring relevant information about the forces of concern in a military situation. Relevant information can include force types, firepower, location, and past, present and future course of action. Situation assessment involves the incorporation of uncertain evidence from diverse sources. These include photographs, radar scans, and other forms of image intelligence, or IMINT; electronics intelligence, or ELINT, derived from characteristics (e.g., wavelength) of emissions generated by enemy equipment; communications intelligence, or COMINT, derived from the characteristics of messages sent by the enemy; and reports from human informants (HUMINT). These sources must be combined to form a model of the situation. The sheer volume of data, the ubiquity of uncertainty, the number and complexity of hypotheses to consider, the high-stakes environment, the compressed time frame, and deception and damage from hostile forces, combine to present a staggeringly complex problem. Even if one could formulate a decision problem in reasonable time, explicit determination of an optimal decision policy exceeds any reasonable computational resources. While it is tempting to drop any attempt at rational analysis and rely purely on simple heuristics, we argue that this can lead to catastrophic outcomes. We present an architecture for a ``complex decision machine'' that performs rational deliberation to make decisions in real time. We argue that resource limits require such an architecture to be grounded in simple heuristic reactive processes. We thus argue that both simple heuristics and complex decision machines are required for effective decision making in real time for complex problems. We describe an implementation of our architecture applied to the problem of military situation assessment.

belief networksknowledge representationagile modelingbounded rationalitydecision theory

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000