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Louise Bennet
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The University of Melbourne-based SWARM Project is recruiting participants to see if using the reasoning powers of bees can produce better results than the methods often used by intelligence agencies.

Teams recruited from the general public will compete alongside professional analysts, as well as teams from Australian organisations with intelligence functions, to examine a range of fictional intelligence-type problems, such as who shot a missile or carried out a bombing.

Associate Professor Tim van Gelder, who co-leads the SWARM Project, said the key is the simultaneous exploration of many options.

“When a swarm of bees looks for a new home, scouts are sent out in different directions looking for sites and communicating information on what they find,” Associate Professor van Gelder said.

“Research has shown that this results in the bees selecting the best possible site available nine times out of 10."

Associate Professor van Gelder said a common practice in intelligence organisations is for an individual analyst, or a small team, to produce a draft analysis.

“This document is then passed to others who suggest revisions. As a result, the group tends to focus on the one document, and on the one analytical approach,” he said.

"If bees used this reasoning, a swarm might only explore one potential site, debate at length whether it is good enough and how to improve it, while unwittingly ignoring other, better suited sites.

"By pulling the many and diverse contributions of crowd members into a single coherent piece of reasoning we are exploring whether intelligence agencies could effectively ‘crowd source’ better analytical reasoning."

The SWARM 2018 Challenge will run for four weeks starting on June 25, with teams working on one problem per week using a custom-built cloud platform developed by the SWARM Project at the University of Melbourne.

The SWARM 2018 Challenge is open to Australian organisations, professional analysts, working and retired, and members of the public. Potential participants can sign up at the SWARM website.

Team places are filling up fast and there has been an enthusiastic response from a range of Australian organisations with intelligence functions," Associate Professor van Gelder said.

"Organisations stand to benefit by providing a potentially valuable experience for their participating staff, comparing their team performance with other teams, and by learning about some of the latest thinking on how intelligence analysis might be done," he said.

The SWARM Project is funded by IARPA, the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, through a program called CREATE.  Their long-term goal is the development of practical tools capable of helping intelligence analysts produce substantially better reasoning, and increase the accuracy of their conclusions.

Insights gained from the research will be presented at Intelligence 2018, the Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers national conference in Canberra this August.

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