NATO, Virtual Worlds, and Real World Problems
At the risk of being told again that I am writing in “literary Klingon,” I want to return to the issue of virtual worlds and their real world implications. This time, a virtual world is being considered as a way to assist in the management of an international organization, namely NATO. According to Danger Room:
NATO’s got a new plan for training up employees and running the alliance’s day-to-day business: create a virtual world.
That’s right: The organization is after software models that would simulate its real-world headquarters …, as well as NATO’s North American command center, the Headquarters Supreme Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Va. The 3D programs would be used for training purposes and meetings, and NATO hopes they’ll improve staff communication and productivity, while circumventing “the inhibitions to collaboration posed by physical distance and time zones.”
See also this post at CTLab. It’s an interesting idea that a virtual headquarters in cyberspace could be used to ease the coordination problems of an international organization. On the one hand, this sounds like a really fancy version of conference calling, but I think NATO is hoping for something much more elaborate. Consider the following from Danger Room (emphasis added):
This isn’t the first time NATO has toyed with virtual training programs. In February, they requested a computerized replica of Afghanistan, complete with data on Afghan economics, politics and culture, to be used by war planners in decision-making considerations. And two years ago, the Navy asked for the same thing, but with Iraq as the targeted 3D nation.
Of course, mapping an entire country is a much bigger challenge than replicating a few command stations, but NATO’s still got lofty goals for the new training program. They want a world that’s physically realistic and real-time, and continues to run even when users aren’t “in-world.” Plus, each staffer will be represented with an avatar.
I am more sanguine about the use of virtual worlds as a means to aid workflow in a multinational organization than as an effective tool in politico-economic planning. While the first is essentially a complex communications technology, the second is actually a political model, as dependent on assumptions and interpretations as any other political analysis. These two uses of virtual worlds are thus quite different, one is largely content-neutral, the other is all about the content. In the latter case, the virtual world is likely to only work as well as our understanding of the real one.