Victory in Afghanistan - Calling All Artificial Intelligence Experts

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

At the risk of being what one of my beloved and recently deceased mentors would call overideational (i.e. carry an idea to absurd lengths), I had some thoughts about how to achieve a victory in the war in Afghanistan. But to complete them I will need input from the AI community.

Succinctly put, unless and until we can shake up and destabilize the deeply entrenched, hard wired ideology of Al-Qaeda, terrorists and the fanatics who support them, we or anybody will be hard pressed to defeat an enemy that looks forward to dying in service of their cause and that believes they will be rewarded, martyred and ennobled afterwards.

Here's the challenge to AI experts.

What if ideology is to ideas, what long term memory/hard drive is to short term working memory/RAM? Is there a way to do something to that long term/hard drive memory of ideology to push it back to the short term/RAM fluid stage of ideas where it can be modified or re-engineered such that it then becomes a different ideology?

For instance, as I write this I am converting a "half baked" idea into a blog using the RAM on my computer and a word processing program. I will fiddle around with it but it will still be imperfect (with the unavoidable "loosey goosey" thinking and grammatical mistakes I never completely eliminate and will be called to task about in the subsequent comments) when I submit it to the "long term" memory of blogs on the Huffington Post where it will reside on the "Living" page for a few hours before it is archived with the rest of my imperfect blogs at my page forever.

When I think of some of my own long term, fixed ideologies that I resist changing, I am wondering what would need to happen for me to challenge them and re-engineer them.

Something that I have found enormously helpful in intervening and transforming a fixed mindset comes from my good friend David Rock that I learned from his book, Quiet Leadership. In that book he spoke about Change (in this case a change in ideology) resulting from the following steps:

1. Awareness

2. Reflection

3. Insight

4. Action

By those he meant, that for me to Change a fixed ideology, fixed perception and fixed way of reacting to the world, I would first need to become Aware of something that completely turns on its head, my view of a situation. Next that awareness has to be so powerful that it causes me to Reflect (i.e. ponder) further about the situation. That means thinking, "Hmmm, this new way of looking at things is more accurate than my old way of looking at things and has now introduced me to a entirely different set of new and better possibilities for the situation I am now facing." That leads to the Insight phase of: "If B is closer to the truth than A and I now respond differently to the situation, I will generate a better result." That spontaneously leads to the new and changed Action that I will take that will lead to a new and possibly better result.

An example of that exact situation occurred 25 years ago when I appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show during its first season. I was called up as an expert on the phenomenon of divorced couples getting back together and remarrying their ex.

As I was being miked for the segment that I would first appear in I remember looking out at the studio audience that was intently staring at me. Because of personal insecurities and an old neurotic view of the world I thought they were looking at me and thinking: "Oh, here comes the 'shrink' in the next segment. This is the token credibility expert who is going to just blow hot air, pontificate and talk either over our heads or down to us."

I was all set to be criticized and on the defensive, when the person putting the microphone on me said: "You may not know it Dr. Mark, but everyone in our studio audience today is divorced and unhappily so."

I was taken aback and said to her: "What!"

And then she repeated what she had said whereupon I looked back at the audience. They hadn't changed the way they were looking at me, but instead of seeing them as people looking to judge and find fault with me, it became apparent that they were all hurting and looking to me to explain the possibility that even after a divorce, it is still not too late to fix the marriage that was over and to live happily ever after (as the three couples prior to my appearance had all done).

When I became aware that the audience was looking not to judge me but was looking for help from me, I reflected on their not wanting to hurt me. Realizing they didn't want to hurt me I then had the insight that there was no need for me to be on the defensive. And after I gained that insight I spontaneously acted differently switched from being primed to react defensively and to talking at them, to now talking with them and trying to help them by answering any and all questions that they had.

And the new possibility and measurable breakthrough result that it caused?

In those days of talk shows there was a process that if you won the trust, confidence and respect of the audience and the host (and they liked you)- in this case Oprah - you would be rewarded by having the host ask you questions when the closing credits were running. And that is exactly what Oprah did.

And after asking me three questions that resulted in an uproarious audience applause, the future Queen of television tipped her hat to me by saying: "This girl (meaning herself) says, he knows his stuff!"

If any of the analyses and analogies I have proposed make sense the question becomes, what would fanatical followers of ideologies need to become aware of that would turn their deeply held beliefs enough on their heads and cause them to reflect in such a way that their ideology loosens its stranglehold on them. In other words what awareness can reach into the long term fixed memory and bring it back into their short term working and fluid memory where it can be open to change.

So I will ask again of experts in the AI community, once something such as a fanatically held ideology is embedded in the long term memory/hard disc of someone's mind and personality, is there a way to grab it and convert it back to the stage of an idea where it can be modified according to a new awareness of the facts and realities it faces such that it becomes a better and more constructive vs. destructive ideology?