Future of war revealed by Sheffield scientists

Models to accurately predict the future of military conflicts based on classified information from the Afghan war revealed by whistleblower website Wikileaks have been created by scientists at the University of Sheffield.

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Using war logs with about 77,000 events including location, day and time of occurrence and other details from the war in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2009, the team of scientists – including scientists from the universities of Edinburgh and Columbia, USA – were able to predict armed opposition group activity way into the future of the battle.

The researchers’ model was able to create a strikingly accurate prediction of armed opposition group activity in 2010, based solely on the data from the previous years, including which provinces would experience more and less violence as well as anticipate by how much the level of violence would increase or decrease.

The new technology could be used in the future to help better plan deployment of resources, including soldiers, and better manage conflicts.

Professor Visakan Kadirkamanathan, a co-author, Head of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering and a member of the Centre for Signal Processing and Complex Systems, said: “Conflict dynamics models of the type developed here can provide forecasts of the levels of conflict with a degree of uncertainty, and reveal geographically spatial patterns in the conflict.

“The dataset used in this study is the Afghan War Diary, a compendium of military war logs released by the whistleblower site Wikileaks in 2010 associated with the war in Afghanistan. Its disclosure is unprecedented in the history of modern warfare.

“The model was able to show in map form the growth in the intensity of the conflict during the period of 2004-2009 as well as its volatility. Independent from the data used in the models, we were able to predict the armed opposition group activity in 2010.”

He added: “Models of conflict dynamics provide a key advantage in their ability to predict and forecast how the conflicts escalate over time, an important source of information for decision making. In our study, the statistical models used can also provide a measure of the uncertainty associated with the predictions, and not just the prediction of the level of the conflict.”

The results of the project have been published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and are part of a growing movement to understand and predict episodes of political and military conflict using data driven modelling techniques.

Development of spatio-temporal modelling techniques, such as the one used in this study, are being pioneered within the University of Sheffield’s Centre for Signal Processing and Complex Systems, in the Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering.

Additional information

Researchers

The PNAS publication study was carried out by Dr Andrew Zammit-Mangion, the Lead Author of the paper, through a PhD funded by the Endowed University of Sheffield Scholarship under the supervision of Professor Visakan Kadirkamanathan who was partly funded by an EPSRC Platform Grant. The study was initiated by Dr Mike Dewar, a former member of the Sheffield Centre for Signal Processing and Complex Systems and carried out under the overall guidance of Dr Guido Sanguinetti of the University of Edinburgh, the Senior Author of the paper.

To view the paper online at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/07/11/1203177109.abstract  

The University of Sheffield

With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, and 2007).

These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world. The University’s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.

Contact

For further information please contact:

Paul Mannion
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9851
p.f.mannion@sheffield.ac.uk