With SAIC facilitation, subject matter experts forecast impacts of COVID-19 and other global issues
To say that 2020 was a disruptive year is quite an understatement. Tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs, almost 300,000 Americans lost their lives due to COVID-19, and political and racial divides grew deeper than many imagined.
Amid the tumult, SAIC’s analytic gaming team elected to sponsor a one-day analytic simulation in early December focused on analysis of and preparation for potential future disruptions in existing trend lines pushing across technology, economics, government, and society as a whole. The exercise brought together more than two dozen participants from government, academia, think tanks, and private industry to focus on the global implications of these disruptive trends for the next two to five years.
Throughout the exercise, participants discussed major trends, including societal divisions exacerbated by the pandemic, proliferation of misinformation, and challenges posed by a rising China.
What is analytic gaming?
For nearly 30 years, SAIC has used analytic games to bring together experts of various skill sets, backgrounds, and interests to examine a realistic challenge or strategy from multiple points of view. These games often result in novel solutions that may not arise from traditional or legacy research methods, providing participants valuable insights into the potential long-term consequences of actions.
“We want our participants, no matter their backgrounds, to understand how decisions shape the future and then how to effectively respond to the effects of those decisions,” said Maureen Smith, who oversees the analytic gaming team as part of her role as director of AI in SAIC’s Strategy, Growth and Innovation group.
Finding a new normal
The gaming team divided participants into five teams to examine trends in the following areas: economic, sociocultural, technological, political, and black swans/gray rhinos (unexpected disruptors). They examined the new normal between now and 2022. In a hypothetical scenario, the gaming team asked teams to react to what COVID-19 vaccine distribution will mean for the globe, how the Biden administration’s push to rejoin the Paris Agreement’s climate accords would impact world politics, how the proliferation of misinformation will affect societal norms, and how advancements in biotechnology will influence consumerism across demographics, among several other hypothetical questions.
The gaming team then shifted the game for the afternoon segment by injecting trends and disruptions identified by participants in the first session. The game posited that between January 2022 and July 2023, political polarization grows significantly worse, dependence on digital technology grows even steeper, education inequality widens around the U.S., NATO alliances grow tense as authoritarian democracies — Turkey, Hungary, Italy — seek relations with traditional autocracies — China and Russia — and the Troubles reignite in Northern Ireland.
The five teams spent the majority of the day working together virtually to discuss insights into how their areas of expertise would react to the provided prompts. The teams analyzed possible second- and third-order reactions to understand how trends or patterns would emerge from potential disruptions.
Once the teams finished drawing their conclusions, they reassembled as a full group to share insights and information regarding what they felt were potential positive and negative disruptors. Most agreed that the hypothetical situation breeds division among classes and even regions. Urban areas like New York City, London, and Los Angeles would be sources of human capital and talent while rural areas would be further disenfranchised.
“The pandemic may disrupt and exacerbate regional disruptions, which is going to cause further divides in education, political leanings, and income,” one participant said.
MORE ANALYTIC GAMING: COVID-19 and the 'new normal'
Another participant pointed out that every group addressed how the weaponization of misinformation and that underlying biases in AI will further exacerbate existing problems. “There’s always outside actors influencing domestic civil war. Dissent is fomented from the outside,” the participant said. “But we’re getting to the point where the opposite can happen, and factions that have already existed are becoming more agitated.”
One of the biggest potential disruptors, climate change, was hardly discussed in the full group setting. Wildfires in the western U.S. and a strong hurricane season were both possibilities in the scenario description, but not many insights about responding to large-scale disasters were shared.
A lot of environmental issues happen really fast and are quite tragic, but the group saw climate issues as long-term and often incremental.
Many of the teams shared concerns about China, a key topic of interest for many participants involved in the game. Participants debated over how true Chinese strength may be, reaffirming to one another that the U.S. could benefit from more understanding of Chinese culture, politics, and even technological innovation. The technology team agreed that China strengthening its alliance with India could increase the cost of goods in a time where the global supply chain is recovering from COVID-19 disruptions.
Meanwhile, the economics team identified and discussed the unlikely but highly disruptive situation where China not only out-bulks but also out-innovates America, making breakthroughs that shift global tech companies from Silicon Valley to the Asian giant.
These games are designed to contribute to the overall national security dialogue and think through the possibilities for having a strategic plan in place.