Posted: July 22, 2020

Applications due August 28, 2020

The overarching goal of this research program is to enhance and extend the understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of future information warfare, towards rapid detection, tracking and prediction of attempts at social manipulation. The problem requires the deep integration of two, currently distinct scientific fields, mathematics and social sciences. While modern mathematical methods are often and well-used in social science studies, this research program is going well beyond the state of the art and is calling for the development of a new mathematical foundation for describing, analyzing and predicting human social behavior at multiple scales and in complex and dynamic environments, thus laying the groundwork for a new field.

The first aspect concerns the mathematical understanding of the threat and the environment, leading to the design of efficient counter-measures. One must deal, especially, with the critical problems of malicious activity detection and inference of their sources in a very dynamic environment. The growing employment of Machine Learning (ML) methods, as well as other mathematical techniques for data analytics (e.g. topological data analysis – TDA, manifold reconstruction, etc.), provides some formidable capabilities, but is far from sufficient. For example, these tools deal with static data, not adversarial agents who can quickly adapt their strategies, effectively changing the rules of the game. The behavioral dynamics also evolve over a complex multi-layer network that includes cyber, media and a multitude of social dimensions. The true nature and scaling properties of these real-life networks may still be elusive, possibly disrupting an accurate interpretation of measurements, and these networks will evolve rapidly as technology and social conditions change. These are fundamental and unresolved problems for which current techniques are insufficient.

The social dimension is the second aspect of the problem. It is already well appreciated how different forms of communication influence individual and group understandings of knowledge and behavior, but the acceleration of cyber influence by sophisticated software agents could have significant implications for social trust and how people live, learn, and communicate. Questions range up to the fundamental issues of how manipulating information at greater speeds and with greater specificity and customizability affects the social relations on which society relies. With the advent of 5G technology and beyond, people may be instantaneously exposed to a deluge of information, from the geo-political to the trivial. How does this accelerated information and network complexity impact social relations across micro, meso, and macro scales? Are new ways of manipulating opinion, even subtler than before, made accessible, and could we detect them? Who then become the principal agents of manipulation, whether complicit or unwitting?

While relying on fundamental and exploratory studies in their respective fields, these two directions must eventually be integrated, as the mathematical models of the network, their agents, and the social behavior, must be based on realistic models at multiple scales of aggregation. The comprehensive basic research being sought-after in this opportunity should provide the basis for a unique ability to detect and predict evolving malign social influence, in realistic and ever-changing conditions.

See full solicitation here

Office of Grants and Contracts

Address

107 Ag Administration Building
University Park, PA 16802