ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 14, 2015) -- Apple's Siri. IBM's Watson. Google Now. These well-known systems attempt to interact with humans in natural ways, solve complex problems, try to evolve, and continually better understand their environments and the humans with whom they interact.Sound familiar? In many ways, each of these technologies are acting much like a staff for their human counterparts. The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center is seeking to apply cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and computer automation to support tactical decision making for Army commanders and staff.CERDEC will launch a new science and technology project next year called the Commander's Virtual Staff, or CVS, which seeks to fundamentally transform how automation is delivered to commanders."We have made real progress in getting decision makers data, whether they need it or not; now we need to give them not just data, but information and knowledge as well as decision-aiding tools," said John Willison, CERDEC Command, Power and Integration director.Studies show that battalion commanders are unhappy with the number of systems that must be consulted and the volumes of data that must be mentally processed to make decisions, according to the Mission Command Center of Excellence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.To achieve situational understanding, commanders must interact with a large number of support staff and examine different computer systems, all while mentally fusing large data sets to perform informed decision making.The project will provide computer automation specifically targeted to commanders and their close staff by exploring today's commercial technologies and advances in artificial intelligence that provide users with proactive suggestions, advanced analytics and natural interaction tailored to the user's unique needs and preferences."There's been limited machine support designed to integrate across warfighting functions and facilitate mission command tasks," said Lt. Col. Michael A. Baker, Command, Power and Integration military deputy. "CVS will leverage automation and cognitive computing technologies to grapple with countless data sources and intense situational complexity on the battlefield, not to make decisions, but to help commanders make better more informed decisions."Army researchers hope to provide a suite of tools to enhance the commander's ability to understand, visualize, describe and direct. In addition to automated support for executing operations processes, the project will offer decision support software for all phases of the operations process from planning, preparation, execution and after action reviews.Some of the major capabilities will include data aggregation, integrated agile planning, computer-assisted running estimates, continuous predictions of events based current mission and situational awareness data, recommendations and options.The program will provide data aggregation by interfacing into existing command post systems to consolidate and mediate information as needed -- whether that be from staff computer systems, sensors or Soldiers -- and provide the commander with an aggregated data collection.The integrated agile planning capability will be able to produce an electronic representation of the mission that can be used to facilitate war gaming, preparation, rehearsal and provide coordination during mission execution for both human and autonomous systems."With CVS, we're after a less familiar sort of autonomy found inside command and staff support systems and servers as opposed to better known examples such as route planning for UAVs and ground robots," Baker said. "CVS will support goal-directed systems by better capturing and interpreting user intent to focus situational assessments, develop and analyze potential courses of action and identify unanticipated risks and threats."The assessment capability will continually compare the current situation against the intent of the commander's plan to assess whether or not decisions need to be made and to advise when situations may require attention. These computer-assisted running estimates will provide the commander and staff a continual flow of recognized risks and opportunities based on how well the state of the real world tracks the world envisioned in the commander's intent.While the prediction capability can be used to generate alerts and provide a future operating picture with associated confidence levels, operations and recommendations will be continuously generated based on mission goals, local knowledge, predictions and the current situation. It will provide the commander with a range of options for consideration in any given situation and provide an analysis of the relative merits of each. The intent is for humans to be aware of choices and their associated cost/benefit analysis, but not to have CVS make the decision."Machine learning as well as user configuration will improve the system over time to better support specific individual and organizational processes and preferences. Behaviors may be tuned by users during training or following real-world engagements so that the system grows with the commander and staff," Baker said. "CVS objectives include learning and recognizing user patterns, testing and updating models of enemy tactics as well as local environments to continually improve assessments. Configurations used by successful commanders may ultimately provide a priceless digital record of knowledge, processes and experiences useful for training new commanders."The project is part of Army researcher's long-term vision for supplying mission command, directly supporting the Army's Operating Concept 2020-2040 and the Army's key technology imperatives to execute mission command, enhance situational understanding, optimize human performance and help develop key leaders.CERDEC is extending previous work and lessons learned from programs such as its Mission Command and Actionable Intelligence Technology Capability Demonstration and Commander's Toolkit, which provide tools to push proactive information to small unit leaders before they need to ask for it.The design team will use an open framework to invite contribution and extension from experts in multiple fields. The open software platform will be designed to be an integration point for technologies developed by CERDEC directorates, as well as contributions from other DoD S&T organizations. The project will act as the incubator for developing a series of useful digital decision support capabilities to be transitioned to programs of record."We will look to leverage industry, academia, and the Research Labs to define and develop a program that reduces the commander's cognitive burden. CVS will provide future forces with the decisive agility necessary to be able to see, understand, decide and act more quickly than their opponents," said Lisa Heidelberg, chief for CP&I Mission Command Capabilities Division.---This article appears in the May/June 2015 issue of Army Technology Magazine, which focuses on Future Computing. The magazine is available as an electronic download, or print publication. The magazine is an authorized, unofficial publication published under Army Regulation 360-1, for all members of the Department of Defense and the general public.The Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to empower the Army and joint warfighter with technology and engineering solutions that ensure decisive capabilities for unified land operations. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.