On Point: Q&A with Lewis Shepherd

June 1, 2021

Lewis Shepherd, a senior executive at VMware, is the vice chair of AFCEA’s Intelligence Committee and an advisor to several government agencies.

Where will digital engineering have its greatest effect in military and intelligence operations?

Digital twins will populate the Earth virtually but with manifest operational lives. Already manufacturers of large-scale systems (weapons platforms such as ships and aircraft) use digital engineering as the default in design, and the digital twin artifacts are taking on real-time operational lives themselves. C2 is evolving to give military commanders a digital control-plane, simulating assemblages of digital twins across a complex modeled environment not just for wargaming but for warfighting, transforming the fight itself. Digital engineering is also transforming ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], as foundational military intelligence (FMI) shifts from textual database entries into richly modeled, granularly accurate digital-engineering twins of adversary order-of-battle, combat theaters and complex interconnected socioeconomic systems.

What will be the sleeper capability to affect national security?

The marriage of digital engineering with embedded computation creates a wholly new kind of “modeling and simulation” with national, cultural, global implications we don’t fully understand yet. But we already see large investments in the field, initially for defense and cybersecurity uses. As we adopt new connected devices in our personal and work lives at massive scale, those digitally engineered smart devices offer the opportunity for others to use their data output to create living up-to-date smart twins of everything. But what can be controlled can be hacked, manipulated and data-poisoned. National decision making based on models and simulations are an interesting challenge.

Where will we see the biggest change in the intelligence arena?

Digital signals of everything—all economic, industrial, social, nearly all human activity—should prompt rethinking how we organize and reward IC [intelligence community] activity. Breaking traditional stovepipes and -INTs is hard; in 2005 while at the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], I tried to promote a rethink of SIGINT into “GIGINT,” a more expansive reflection of all information passing across the all-source Global Information Grid. It didn’t work, but the notion seems even more relevant now. Maybe that and HUMINT are the only two we need!

How can we counter adversary social engineering?

I make a case for optimism, and a strategy of seizing the initiative by operationalizing truth and a free society. Our goal cannot be to eradicate false information. After all, in the military realm, IO/IW [information operations/information warfare] professionals know that the godfather of war memes Sun Tzu wrote, “All warfare is based on deception.” Our goal could be to think about information command and control by controlling the tempo of engagement. On the notion of an OODA [Observe, Orient, Decide, Act] Loop for information/influence operations, let’s invest in operationalizing our story, to reverse tradition so that, “The truth can gallop halfway round the world before a lie has time to pull its breeches on.” The information domain is just another virtual layer, like virtual layers we use in computing and cloud today, and AI [artificial intelligence]-at-scale operating far faster than human response times should offer creative means for “social-engineering forward-defense” in the future.

What do you think is the next great technology trend?

We virtualize compute, storage and networking. We’ll extend abstraction to include all data itself. Data virtualization systems could underlie more capable and usable handling of classification levels, ideally including “the anywhere SCIF.” And predictably, generative neural nets will exploit data virtualization for good and malign purposes, so keep on your toes.

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