Research Projects

Below are some of the projects I have worked on. More information about each of the projects can be found on the School's project pages.

IEXTREME

IEXTREME LogoThe IEXTREME project is a trans-Atlantic collaborative project, funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research. The project is a collaborative venture between the University of Southampton, Applied Research Associates and Rababy & Associates LLC, with Applied Research Associates acting as the prime contractor. The main goal of the IEXTREME project is to develop a better understanding of the ideological enablers associated with the behaviour of terrorist and insurgent groups. The National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism identifies extremist ideology as the enemy’s strategic center of gravity, and the Department of Defense (DoD) plays a significant role in establishing an environment unfavourable to extremist ideas, terrorist recruitment, and support. In spite of this, however, we have, as yet, little understanding of the specific ways in which extremist ideology contributes to various forms of terrorist action. IEXTREME aims to address this shortcoming by combining state-of-the-art approaches to cultural modelling with a variety of advanced knowledge technologies. The project builds on the scientific and technical outcomes of a number of previous projects, including SEMIOTIKS, MIMEX, ITA, ArtEquAKT and AKT.

The IEXTREME project is broken down into a number of separate, but inter-dependent, research and development activities:

  1. Cultural Model Development: Using state-of-the-art approaches to cultural model development, Applied Research Associates will develop qualitative models of both extremist and moderate religious groups. The aim here is to provide a cognitive characterization of groups in terms of their commitment to terrorist activities. Clearly, extremist and moderate groups can be distinguished in terms of their decision to commit acts of terrorism, but to what extent can this commitment be accounted for in terms of the specific beliefs and values of the group members? Furthermore, what role do beliefs and values play in legitimating terrorist action? Do specific beliefs serve to reinforce extremism by prohibiting a consideration of alternative ideologies? And can pre-existing beliefs effectively inoculate a religious community against the adoption of extremist ideologies? These are the kind of questions that the cultural modelling activity intends to explore. In developing cultural models, Applied Research Associates will rely on a technique called Cultural Network Analysis (CNA). CNA is a technique for developing cultural models that draws on ideas, methods and techniques from a variety of disciplines, including naturalistic decision making, cognitive anthropology, cognitive psychology, and decision analysis. CNA was developed by Applied Research Associates, and it has been used in a variety of application contexts. For example, it has been used to support the identification of cultural differences between US and UK military planners, to analyse the decision making processes of Middle Eastern crowd members, and to model the decision-making frameworks associated with nuclear terrorism.
  2. Cultural Ontology Development: Cultural models are intended to represent a group’s causally-relevant beliefs and values as they relate to a specific decision outcome, e.g. the decision to commit acts of terrorism. The conventional way of communicating such models is, however, somewhat informal, and this prohibits the effective exploitation of the models in automated processes. The aim of the cultural ontology development activity is to develop cultural ontologies that represent the content of cultural models in a form that is much more amenable to machine-based processing. The activity also seeks to extend and adapt the cultural ontologies developed in previous projects, such as the MIMEX project.
  3. Cultural Analysis System (CAS) Development: The University of Southampton will act as technical lead on the development of a technical demonstrator system to support the analysis of culture-relevant resources on the World Wide Web. The system will also be used to support a number of empirical evaluation studies. The CAS comprises a suite of knowledge processing and information visualization technologies. Together these technologies deliver the following capabilities:
    1. Ontology Visualization and Editing: The CAS will support the visualization and editing of cultural ontologies by providing access to state-of-the-art semantic browser interfaces and controlled natural language editors.
    2. Resource Classification: Building on the scientific and technical outcomes of the SEMIOTIKS project, the CAS will include a resource classification capability that capitalizes on the availability of semantically-enriched meta-data characterizations of resource content.
    3. Knowledge Extraction: The IEXTREME project will incorporate information extraction capabilities developed in the course of previous projects. One of these capabilities is demonstrated by the ArtEquAKT initiative, which was undertaken as part of the Advanced Knowledge Technologies (AKT) programme. ArtEquAKT relied on an ontology of artists and artistic works to support the extraction of relational information from a number of Web-based resources. A similar capability will be developed as part of the IEXTREME project to support the extraction of culture-relevant information from both Web-based and archival resources.
  4. Empirical Evaluation: The IEXTREME project includes a number of empirical evaluation activities which will be undertaken to assess the performance of the CAS's knowledge extraction and resource classification capabilities in the cognitive anthropological domain.

Together the scientific outcomes of the IEXTREME project are expected to deliver improvements in our understanding of the way in which extremist ideological influences support the behaviour of terrorist and insurgent groups. The project will also deliver a number of important technical outcomes. These include state-of-the-art approaches to resource classification, semantic annotation, knowledge extraction, and information visualization; ontologies to support the representation of culture-relevant information; and tools to support the entry and editing of cultural model content. All these outcomes will contribute to our understanding of the ideological enablers associated with the behaviour of terrorist and insurgent groups. They also provide insights into how the decision-making processes of terrorist organizations might be subverted as part of future counter-terrorism initiatives.

The IEXTREME project is due for completion in February 2012. The project is a collaborative research and development effort between the University of Southampton and Applied Research Associates.


ITA-CENES

ITA LogoThe ITA-CENES (Cognitive Extension in Network EnvironmentS) project forms part of the International Technology Alliance (ITA) research programme. CENES aims to explore a number of issues related to the potential impact of contemporary and near-future network environments on human cognitive processing.

One line of research in the CENES project explores the effect that network-level variables (such as network topology) have on collective (group-level) problem-solving performances. A number of studies have shown that, at least in some information processing contexts, certain kinds of network (e.g. small-world networks) may be better suited to supporting collective problem-solving than others. Our aim in the CENES project is to examine these kinds of phenomena in order to better understand the socio-cognitive implications of specific network types. 

Another strand of research in the CENES project concerns the notion of what we broadly refer to as the 'network-extended mind'. In attempting to understand human cognition, cognitive science has tended to focus on the brain as the sole mechanistic substrate of mental phenomena. Cognitive processes, as well as the familiar elements of mentalistic discourse – the mental states that we use to explain and predict human behaviour – are typically seen as arising solely from the operation of the biological brain, and the physical machinery of the human mind is typically seen as something that is solely located inside the human head. In contrast to this rather neurocentric view, the extended cognition or extended mind perspective argues that the physical mechanisms of the human mind are, at least occasionally, distributed, or extended, in nature. According to this perspective, which has been championed by the philosopher Professor Andy Clark, the brain should not be seen as the sole point source of mental phenomena. Rather, the brain should be seen for what it really is: one element of a complex extended network whose representational and computational components include aspects of the extra-organismic social, cultural, linguistic and technological environment. It is from the dynamic interaction of these various resources (in conjunction with the biological brain) that many aspects of the human mind are, we suggest, materially constituted. This is clearly a bold claim, but is it a correct claim? Our aim in CENES is to understand how networks (of many kinds) contribute to the modification, and indeed realization, of human cognitive states and processes. We are particularly interested in the way in which our increasing access to a range of evermore sophisticated network-enabled devices and network-accessible information resources is potentially poised to transform our traditional notions of ourselves as biologically-bounded cognitive agents.

A final area of research activity in the CENES project is the notion of shared understanding. Conventional views of understanding typically make reference to a range of psychological states and processes that support a degree of predictive or explanatory competence in a particular domain of discourse (see Smart et al., 2009). Shared understanding on this view is typically regarded as the possession of equivalent mental models or domain-relevant knowledge. In contrast to this view (but not necessarily in opposition to it), we suggest that the mechanisms that realize shared understanding are not necessarily restricted to inner (in-the-head) processes. Instead, such mechanisms can extend beyond the boundaries of skin and skull to incorporate a variety of environmentally-extended processing routines. In essence, we propose that shared understanding is something that can be examined and explained by externalist accounts of cognition, and that such accounts complement (but do not necessarily compete with) more conventional approaches to shared understanding (e.g. those being explored by other projects in the ITA programme). Our approach to shared understanding is thus clearly one that embraces a distributed approach to human cognition, and, interestingly enough, this aligns itself with recent efforts to understand yet another human factors construct, namely the construct of situation awareness (see Salmon et al, 2009). Since we have suggested that situation awareness is a particular form of understanding, namely dynamic situational understanding (see Smart et al., 2009), a distributed approach to situation awareness is largely compatible with the approach we have adopted in the CENES project.

The CENES project is due for completion in May 2011. The main collaborators are IBM UK, Carnegie Mellon University, Applied Research Associates and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.


SEMIOTIKS

SEMIOTIKS Project LogoSEMIOTIKS was a 3-year collaborative project between the University of Southampton and QinetiQ that was undertaken as part of the aforementioned Data and Information Fusion Defence Technology Centre initiative. SEMIOTIKS aimed to address some of the challenges faced by military and civilian agencies in leveraging the potential of large-scale information networks to support enhanced situation awareness and information superiority. The project combined state-of-the-art approaches to text analysis and resource classification with semantically-enriched approaches to information retrieval, knowledge extraction, knowledge discovery, text summarization and knowledge dissemination. A key aim of the project was to facilitate the identification, classification and processing of unstructured textual resources by capitalizing on the availability of natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) techniques. NLP technologies were used to extract relational information from information resources in a form that was suitable for knowledge processing, while ML techniques supported the classification of resources with respect to the elements of domain ontologies. For demonstration purposes, SEMIOTIKS focused on two problem domains: the domain of humanitarian demining and the domain of improvised explosive device disposal. Within these two domains, SEMIOTIKS technologies were sued to support the classification of domain-relevant resources (e.g. incident reports and humanitarian demining survey reports), the extraction of key factual information from unstructured and semi-structured textual reports, and the publishing of factual information content in linked data formats.

In addition to the focus on semantically-mediated approaches to information extraction and resource classification, SEMIOTIKS also sought to build on the user interface design work that was initiated in AKTiveSA project. As a result of this work, SEMIOTIKS delivered a variety of user interaction technologies that were integrated into a Web-based Technology Demonstrator System (TDS). Some screenshots of the SEMIOTIKS TDS can be viewed by clicking on the thumbnail images below.

SEMIOTIKS Knowledge Base System SEMIOTIKS Knowledge Monitor System SEMIOTIKS Knowledge Monitor System
SEMIOTIKS Resource Browser System SEMIOTIKS Resource Browser System SEMIOTIKS Resource Discovery System

The SEMIOTIKS project was completed in March 2009. The project was a collaborative effort between the University of Southampton and QinetiQ.


MIMEX

MIMEX Project LogoThe MIMEX project was a Data and Information Fusion Defence Technology Centre (DIF DTC) cluster project comprising two academic partners (Cardiff University and the University of Southampton) and one industrial partner (General Dynamics UK Ltd). MIMEX aimed to investigate some of the key challenges confronting military agencies in an era of effects-based operations and network-enabled capabilities. These challenges include the need to integrate information from physically disparate and semantically heterogeneous information repositories, the need to coordinate response outcomes with bodies of socio-cultural and psychological information, and the need to cope with hostile agencies that may deliberately attempt to subvert or disrupt coalition decision making. To address these challenges MIMEX focused on a solution strategy that embraced semantic integration techniques, human factors analysis, trust evaluation and cultural modelling. The operational focus area for MIMEX was Stability and Support Operations (SASO), specifically Information Operations (IO). IO forms part of a spectrum of military operations that entail the exploitation of Open Source intelligence (OSINT), often focused on the civil, rather than the military, domain. Not only are these operations a central focus of effects-based operations, they also reflect much of the operational reality of current military engagements by British Armed Forces. While traditional warfighting operations typically target effects against an enemy's ability to fight, operations such as IO often attempt to achieve regional stability by targeting the ‘hearts and minds' of relevant social groups (i.e. those groups with sufficient power and influence to instigate or control negative events). This focuses attention on the need for enhanced cultural awareness, which was a key aspect of the ontology engineering effort for MIMEX. The aim was to develop ontologies that supported the ability of military coalition forces to engage in culture-sensitive decision-making (i.e. decision-making that was sensitive to the cultural idiosyncrasies of a specific area of operations). This focus on cultural issues served as the basis for projects such as the IEXTREME, which attempts to combine Web-based technologies with cultural modelling techniques in order to support our awareness and understanding of culturally-disparate groups.

The MIMEX project was completed in March 2009. The project was a collaborative effort involving the University of Southampton, General Dynamics UK Ltd and Cardiff University.


AKTiveSA

AKTiveSA LogoAKTiveSA was a 3 year project that was undertaken as part of the UK's Data and Information Fusion Defence Technology Centre (DIF DTC) initiative. The principal aim of the AKTiveSA project was to explore how advanced knowledge technologies could be used to support enhanced situation awareness and inter-agency collaboration in a specific operational context, namely humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations. As highlighted by the MoD's Joint Warfare Publication on Humanitarian/Disaster Relief Operations (JWP 3-52), HADR operations often require military forces to inter-operate with a variety of non-military agencies (e.g. NGOs, civilian government agencies, UN organizations, and so on). Furthermore, HADR operations are, by their very nature, typically undertaken in very hostile and dynamic information environments, environments where relevant information is incomplete, uncertain and liable to change. These features clearly pose a range of information integration, exchange and interoperability challenges for military coalition forces, and in order to deal with these challenges, the AKTiveSA project explored a number of knowledge-based capabilities, each of which was built on top of the Semantic Web. Some of the capabilities explored as part of the AKTiveSA project included:

In addition to the focus on Semantic Web-enabled capabilities, a significant proportion of the AKTiveSA project was devoted to an exploration of user interface design issues. This is reflected in the main technological outcome of the AKTiveSA project, namely the AKTiveSA Technical Demonstrator System (TDS). The AKTiveSA TDS is a Windows-based desktop application that combines a 3-D information visualization environment with a variety of graphical components to support the adaptive retrieval, manipulation and visualization of operationally-relevant information. The following narrated videos provide a brief overview of the functionality of the AKTiveSA TDS (simply click on a thumbnail image to access the video). Alternatively, some screenshots of the AKTiveSA TDS are available here.

AKTiveSA TDS Video AKTiveSA TDS Video
AKTiveSA TDS Video AKTiveSA TDS Video

The scientific and technological outcomes of the AKTiveSA project provided the basis for a number of subsequent e-Defence research projects. These included the SEMIOTIKS project (which focused on information extraction, knowledge processing and information visualization) and the MIMEX project (which focused on issues of cognitive augmentation, trust and the sharing of information across organizational and cultural boundaries).

The AKTiveSA project was completed in December 2006. It was undertaken as a stand-alone project as part of the UK's Data and Information Fusion Defence Technology Centre (DIF DTC) initiative.

 

ECS Project Pages

Partner Organizations

Consultancy Work

I am available to undertake a limited amount of consultancy work each year. Some examples of the kind of consultancy work I have undertaken in the past include:

Any consultancy work I undertake is handled by the School's commercial consultancy company, ECS Partners Ltd. Please feel free to contact either myself or ECS Partners Ltd should you wish to discuss consultancy services in more detail.

Key Publications

ITA-CENES

Smart, P. R., Engelbrecht, P. C., Braines, D., Strub, M., & Giammanco, C. (2010) The Network-Extended Mind. In D. Verma (Ed.), Network Science for Military Coalition Operations: Information Extraction and Interaction. IGI Global, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA.

AKTiveSA

Smart, P. R., Russell, A., Shadbolt, N., schraefel, m. c., & Carr, L. A. (2007) AKTiveSA: A Technical Demonstrator System for Enhanced Situation Awareness in Military Operations Other Than War. The Computer Journal, 50(6), 703-716.

SEMIOTIKS

Smart, P. R., Russell, A., Liang, S. F., Shadbolt, N. R., Booth, C., Briscombe, N., & Rankin, A. (2009) Using Semantic Technologies to Improve Information Exploitation in Military and Civilian Application Contexts. Knowledge Systems for Coalition Operations Conference (KSCO'09), Southampton, UK.

MIMEX

Huynh, T. D. (2009) Automating Trust Evaluation for Ensuring Information Quality. Knowledge Systems for Coalition Operations (KSCO'09), Southampton, UK.