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SPECIAL REPORT: Training and Simulation

Simulating Reality
In today’s military, IT both leads and supports simulation programs giving soldiers, sailors and airmen the training needed to be ready for any eventuality.  

*Simulating Reality
*Simulating Flight
*Gaming Warfighters
*Defense SimulationTraining [PDF] Dr. John Parmentola is the Director for Research and Laboratory Management for the Army.


In that capacity he directs lab management policy for all the Army laboratories, research development and engineering centers. His principle focus is on Army basic research and applied research programs. The basic research programs are very diverse, performed nationwide in universities and Army laboratories. Among the 21 labs and research development engineering centers Dr. Parmentola oversees are the Simulation and Training Technology Center, the Army Research Laboratory and the Army Research Institute.


The Simulation and Training Technology Center is the lead in the technology area for simulation in training according to Dr. Parmentola. A large component of their activity is at the University of Southern California at the Institute for Creative Technologies.

“What we are trying to do is to build training environments that deal with human variability to try to most effectively and efficiently train soldiers to certain standards. So this gets pretty sophisticated in terms of the way we will train our soldiers in the future.”

Dr. John Parmentola, Director for Research and Laboratory Management, US Army

“That institute was set up to bring virtual reality training to the Army,” said Dr. Parmentola in an interview with 1105 Custom Media.


“To do that the Center integrates animation and graphics, artificial intelligence technologies, sound reproduction, Hollywood storytelling, and tries to bring these together to create virtual environments for training purposes.”


Creating Virtual Humans


One of the main challenges the Center is addressing is the creation of virtual humans Dr. Parmentola explained. “The reason is that we want to embed virtual humans in these environments that can interact with humans just like humans interact with humans,” noted Dr. Parmentola. “And to provide as realistic training environments as if a soldier was actually immersed in an actual real environment. The goal is of course idealistically is to make them indistinguishable from reality.”  Many technologies have to come together to make this work. There are graphics and animation which have to reach levels of sophistication that will try to create virtual humans that actually look like humans. It also involves the development of sophisticated speech recognition capabilities, not just in English but in other languages. It involves natural language processing. When you speak to a virtual human, the virtual human has to understand the meaning of what it is that you are saying and then try to respond in an appropriate manner.


“That takes dialogue management, being able to build into the virtual training environment a means of managing the dialogue between humans and virtual humans as well as virtual humans amongst themselves,” Dr. Parmentola said, “and building into these perceptions cognition, emotion and also cultural attributes. Then we can reflect, for example, the types of environments that a soldier might encounter in a battle field in a foreign country.”  It is a great challenge because it requires us to really understand who we are as humans and then try to be able to represent that in a way in which training can be both efficient and effective for our soldiers noted Dr. Parmentola.


“We are building into these environments what we call intelligent tutors. So if we want a soldier to be trained to a certain skill level, we have a skill model that’s built into the training environment; and then as the soldier trains towards a set of tasks and objectives the software monitors the soldier’s progress and sees how fast the soldier is training up to that standard.”  That helps the Army adjust the training environment to better meet the variability in the rates at which people train and the effectiveness with which they train.  And it is moving the Army away from the one size fits all training where you have a classroom, a whole bunch of students and you just train them all according to the same course.  “What we are trying to do is to build training environments that deal with human variability to try to most effectively and efficiently train soldiers to certain standards. So this gets pretty sophisticated in terms of the way in the future we will train our soldiers,” said Dr. Parmentola.


In The Year 2020

The Army sees seven major areas that will shape a great deal of technological innovation in the future.  “I truly believe that what will come out of that will be disruptive – major changes, game changing technologies,” said Dr. Parmentola.  According to Dr. Parmentola part of the key to this is for example neuroscience, which relates directly to training, but it relates to other things as well.  “If we can understand the software of the brain, if you want to call it software, how the brain operates, how it does things, and then once we understand that, we can embed that into a fairly wide range of systems, for example robotics.”  “We would like to have robotic systems that have human-like qualities so that they can operate safely and secure on a battlefield. One of the things that humans do extremely well is pattern recognition. And pattern recognition has applications not just to robotic systems but to a wide range of sensors, but also to virtual humans. If I embed pattern recognition in a virtual human, that virtual human can recognize humans, specific ones, in fact.”


There is a synergy between doing basic research in neuroscience and its impact on robotic systems or autonomous systems, said Dr. Parmentola, “because if I can develop artificial intelligence that is sophisticated like humans, I can embed that in all kinds of things.”


Today’s Supercomputers – Tomorrow’s Pocket Calculators

Nanotechnology is the drive towards new materials, but it is also the drive towards miniaturization and molecular electronics – trying to go to smaller feature sizes in computer chips so more and more functions can be put in smaller and smaller volumes.  “If I can create or continue to create high performance computers, that will enable me to simulate what is going on in the brain and really try to understand whether we really understand how the human brain works, it will also embed itself in robotics systems,” explained Dr. Parmentola.


“It will embed itself in everything, processors will be ubiquitous; it will be embedded in all kinds of devices and will be embedded in communications.”  In the field of high performance computers, an application of nanotechnology is quantum computers. “That’s an example of nanotechnology where we are trying to use atoms and collections of atoms to simulate calculations. If we can do that based on the principles of quantum mechanics we can develop a new range of computers that would make current day supercomputers look like pocket calculators,” marveled Dr. Parmentola.

Leveraging 4 Billion Years of Evolution

“I usually refer to Biotechnology as leveraging 4 billion years of evolution,” explained Dr. Parmentola. “And I keep on reminding people that you can make a lot of product improvements over 4 billion years.”


According to Dr. Parmentola, the human brain has an enormous capacity for computation and it translates itself into these amazing pattern recognition capabilities. However the way we store information is very different than the way we do it in computers today. “The way the brain does it, we don’t quite understand, it’s very hierarchal in the way that it does it. What it does is it looks for common things and then it tends to utilize a very small portion of the brain’s capability to store those common things,” explained Dr. Parmentola.


“As you become more differentiated, more and more of the brain gets involved in the storage of that information. And so it does it in a very efficient way. Now the question is: how does it do the associations that it does? That is something that I don’t think we quite understand. But I think with time we will understand how the brain operates and this will give rise, I believe, to new computer architectures and this will supersede what exists today.”


100X Power

According to Dr. Parmentola, the human brain is about 100 times more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer on the planet today. That might not seem like a lot until you appreciate the fact that the world’s most powerful supercomputer weighs 100,000 pounds while the human brain weighs just 4 pounds. The world’s most powerful supercomputer takes up 5000 cubic feet. The human brain takes up .06 cubic feet. The world’s most powerful supercomputer uses 2 million watts of power; a half a million of that is devoted just to cool off the processors. The human brain only uses 15 watts. So you are talking about a very efficient computational device. The human brain is an enormously compact, highly efficient, energy efficient, computational device said Dr. Parmentola.


“I think that we are on a growth curve and if we continue on the growth curve that we have been on, then by probably 2025 you will have computers on your desk top that have the computational power of the human brain,” noted Dr. Parmentola. “If you continue to 2045, somewhere in there, on your desktop you will have the equivalent of all the human brains on the planet – on your desktop.”