The folks at DARPA, the Defense Department Advanced Research Project, put a call out for those interested to attend a workshop held at the end of February to understand what role “theories of narrative play in security domains.” In other words, the Pentagon wants to learn more about storytelling, because a better understanding of “the role stories play in a security context is a matter of great import and some urgency.” To summarize, the Stories, Neuroscience and Experimental Technologies (STORyNET) workshop was held on the 28th with three goals:
To survey narrative theories – understanding the nature of a story and what makes one up.
To better understand the role of narrative in security contexts – asking what role stories play in political radicalization and how they influence participants in politics.
To survey the state of the art in narrative analysis and decomposition tools – “How can we take stories and make them quantitatively analyzable in a rigorous, transparent and repeatable fashion? Are particular approaches or tools better than others for understanding how stories propagate in a system so as to influence behavior.” (emphasis mine)
The Defense Department has always had an interest in collecting information – from the mass data mining project that was the Total Information Awareness Office (defunded in 2003, with some pieces shifted to other agencies) to “capturing knowledge” for analysis and use with artificial intelligence. The Pentagon has also maintained a very cozy relationship with the mainstream media, embedding reporters in military units and providing plenty of its analysts to propagate its agenda. One would think the DoD already has a handle on storytelling.
While plenty of Americans might buy word from the Pentagon at full price, it’s the hearts and minds of the rest of the world DARPA could be after with theoretical workshops like STORyNET. Max Eddy at Geek System points out that crafting a good tale could help with messaging in Iraq and Afghanistan and Kit Eaton at Fast Company suggests such research could be good for influencing more favorable outcomes for the U.S. in the social revolutions spreading through the Middle East.
While we shouldn’t expect anyone from the Pentagon to craft the next Harry Potter anytime soon, the prospect of things like STORyNET workshops combined with other information collecting and propaganda mechanisms bring us one step closer towards our own Ministries of Truth and Peace.