Dawn Meyerriecks, Deputy Director of CIA for Science and Technology, opened the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s 2021 GEOINT Community Forum, The Geospatial Metaverse – Infrastructure, Tradecraft, and Applications, with her inspiring and insightful discussion of modern technology’s escalating rate of change and the many ways in which individuals can interact with spatial information.
She opened by emphasizing the growth of augmented reality (AR) technology, noting that there are an estimated 600 million AR devices in the world today and anticipating a skyrocket of 1.7 billion devices by 2024.
All age groups – even those 55 and older – are digitally-enabled, and the trajectory of emerging AR technology is set to encompass smaller, portable, and more accessible devices. The uses of AR are endless; Meyerriecks cited the recent inclusion of LiDAR technology in Apple devices, as well as the use of AR in training exercises, as examples of its applicability in different contexts.
Only a few years ago, both public and private stakeholders were still learning how to leverage printed maps with simple overlays to increase situational awareness. Technological advancements leading up to the present day have exceeded the expectations of even the world’s most innovative thinkers. “Take a moment and appreciate what you helped create – not just in terms of capability, but in terms of value and business opportunity,” Meyerriecks said.
Meyerriecks mentioned that the core obstacle to leveraging such powerful computational methods and equipment lies in the ability to ascertain ground truth through these new models. “What things can the computer do? What things do we actually need an expert to look at in order to ensure that these two things we think might be the same are actually the same?” she asked. “You have to be very careful that you don’t over-correlate [certain findings]…in terms of analytic rigor.”
Meyerriecks elaborated further: “I think the place that we’re going to have to work as a community is to make sure that biases… are either clearly identified and dealt with or kept out entirely.”
During the discussion portion of the session, Christy Monaco, USGIF Vice President of Programs, began by asking Meyerriecks her thoughts about use cases or problems that need solving with respect to modeling, simulation, and gaming technologies in order to maximize the potential such intuitive and data-rich capabilities bring to intelligence community missions.
For example, mission rehearsal is an application Meyerriecks mentioned that immersive technology can elevate to ensure that participants maintain full command of their sensor network to amplify their situational awareness.
Monaco then turned the conversation to address a statement Meyerriecks made at USGIF’s GEOINT Symposium in 2018, that “the government is a terrible first customer, but is a great second customer.” Monaco explained its context: the government – though sometimes difficult to work with – is, ultimately, a reliable client. She asked Meyerriecks to further describe how the government has evolved to become an even better partner for industry to utilize.
“Yes, we’re still doing the classic contracting… but we’re having much richer conversations,” Meyerriecks said. Those conversations include vibrant discourse on intellectual property and often look different from standard government discussions typical of the past few decades. The government is becoming increasingly versatile, dynamic, and willing to collaborate with commercial partners as each year goes by. “I’m really encouraged that we are collectively thinking about new and different ways to interact with partners,” Meyerriecks said.
Monaco shared similar excitement about new innovations and advancements within the intelligence community. An audience member asked how Meyerriecks thought the IC was going to prevent regression from these improvements once the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled. Meyerriecks responded, “I don’t think we can go back… I don’t think the workforce will tolerate it, and I don’t think that current leadership will tolerate it… It’s turned out to be too valuable.”
She noted that virtual elements of previously in-person activities enabled diversity and inclusion in ways she had never seen before. Although many of the losses the novel coronavirus has brought are irreplaceable, Meyerriecks reminded listeners that worrying about reverting to pre-pandemic workflows and being cautious about losing innovative momentum is, in a way, a “wonderful problem to have.”
Monaco asked her how she would like to see artificial intelligence (AI) be used in the future. Meyerriecks stated she wanted AI to enable an increase in efficiency to better inform indications and warnings so that the intelligence community can provide timely notifications for areas where the world should be paying closer attention. “We’re still at the very front-end of AI/ML,” she said, but the possibilities are endless.
Meyerriecks provided an example that illustrates the direction virtual reality/augmented reality and AI/ML can take both intelligence and policy pursuits. “What if we can actually let the President or the National Security Advisor walk around a refugee camp without ever leaving their office?” she mused. “What if the [Presidential Daily Brief] wasn’t just an electronic representation of a paper document?”
“Wouldn’t that be powerful?” she asked. “It’s a more personal human connection than an analytic report.”
The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation is both honored and thankful for Dawn Meyerriecks’s participation in the 2021 Geospatial Metaverse.