Zeigarnik Effect, Battlefield Fog and How to Deal With It, Evolution of Winning Mechanism in Intelligent Warfare
Issue 29, 2 May 2022
Ever wondered how your experience of first love is also related to a concept in Cognitive Warfare? Read InfoBytes section to know more :)
I. Military and Warfare
Evolution of the Winning Mechanism of Intelligent Warfare
An article by PLA writers of unknown affiliation traces the evolution of important factors needed to win wars in the era of intelligent warfare. To sum up, evolution in winning mechanisms is represented as follows:
The shift from beating adversary using strength to beating adversary using wisdom: Writers emphasize that "in the era of intelligent warfare, the contribution rate of intellectual superiority to combat effectiveness is much higher than that of other factors." (智能化战争时代，智力优势对战斗力的贡献率远高于其他要素。)
The shift from a focus on destroying power to destroying cognitive capabilities: As per the authors, this shift is accelerated by a shift towards intelligence. As the combat space has gradually expanded from the physical domain and the information domain to the cognitive domain, and from the tangible battlefield to the invisible battlefield, the focus of warfare is shifting from destroying hard power to destroying cognitive capabilities. Here too, the importance of big data is evident to 'create a fog of war'. Look at this statement, "Big data, known as the "new oil", has become an important "weapon" for the cognition of opponents while enriching the sources of intelligence. By processing big data and deliberately "leaking" it to the opponent, it will create a new "fog of war" for it, making it fall into a situation of cognitive confusion." (被誉为“新石油”的大数据在丰富情报来源的同时，也成为作用于对手认知的重要“武器”。)
The shift from people-oriented to human-machine collaboration: This quote is self-explanatory. "In intelligent warfare, combat tasks will be completed by man-machine coordination, and the two will achieve organic integration and complement each other's advantages." (在智能化战争中，作战任务将由人机协同完成，两者将实现有机融合、优势互补。)
The shift from numbers to speed: Traditional warfare emphasizes numbers. More number of troops and weapons means more power. However, the rapid development of military intelligence has improved the speed of information transmission and the accuracy of weapon strikes reduced the time for reconnaissance and early warning, intelligence processing, command decision-making, fire strikes, and damage assessment, and accelerated the OODA kill chain cycle. Thus, marking the shifting from crude numbers to speed and efficiency.
Shift from integration to clusters: Traditional warfare depended on the integration of weapons platforms. However, authors argue that "the development and deployment of multi-functional high-end platforms not only requires a lot of time and money but also may be incompatible with each other when integrating multiple hardware and software modules into a single weapon platform." (然而，开发部署多功能高端平台不仅需要耗费大量的时间和经费，当把多个软硬件模块集成到单一武器平台时，还可能出现相互之间不兼容的情况).
On the other hand, disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence have contributed to the rapid development of unmanned swarms. Unmanned swarms offer advantages like operations on a large scale, low comprehensive cost, and decentralization. And even if some unmanned platforms are destroyed, they will not affect the overall effectiveness of combat operations.
From the dominance of the military to a mix of multiples (从“军事主导”到“多元混合”): This refers to a shift from traditional methods of warfare that depend on military actions to new fields of warfare such as space, network, and intelligence, and the role of economic, cultural, diplomatic, legal and other means in warfare. Again, the following quote from the article is self-explanatory. "With the development and maturity of intelligent technology, it will become more common to use a variety of means to launch attacks on opponents' industrial, transportation, financial, communication, energy, medical and other facilities and networks." (随着智能化技术的发展成熟，综合运用多种手段向对手的工业、交通、金融、通信、能源、医疗等设施和网络发起的攻击将更加普遍。)
Several PLA authors have tried to trace 'winning mechanisms' in intelligent warfare so far. In previous issues of China Tech Dispatch, I have covered a series of articles focused on various aspects of intelligent warfare. This is in continuation of the same series. All articles so far have some arguments in common.
First, all articles emphasize the need for artificial intelligence in intelligence warfare. Artificial Intelligence is considered a modernizing force for the PLA and ushers the next stage of modernization in the PLA. Somewhat similar is the view on Big Data. Advanced computing also features Quantum computing.
Second, although these emerging technologies feature prominently in writing and articles, the writers are not blinded by only the rosy possibilities promised by emerging technologies. If the published writings are a marker, then it seems like PLA scholars do recognize the drawbacks and limitations of these technologies. Hence, some scholars have emphasized the hybrid human-machine integration as an important step towards intelligentization of warfare. This emphasis on human-machine integration is meant to combine the strengths of humans and machines and provide a base for the full integration of machines in the military.
Third, most scholars who have written so far have emphasized dependence on the military to carry out warfare will reduce, and the other forms of warfare like space, network, and intelligence will increase. As far as PLA is considered, I think the role of the PLA will not diminish even if the nature of operations shifts. As PLA's post-2015 reorganizations suggest, the operations will probably be conducted by both military and non-military actors.
Fourth, the authors have so far emphasized improving or targeting the decision-making ability of leaders during the war. This is especially important in the information age since accurate information on the situation on the battlefield would help leaders to take proper actions and incorrect information can lead to catastrophe.
Importance of 'Battlefield Fog'
Although this is a separate article, I would read this continuation with the one above. Creating 'battlefield fog' essentially means creating disinformation regarding the actual condition of the battlefield. As I have highlighted in my comment above, this 'fog' is important from point of view of leaders who have to make crucial decisions based on the situation on the battlefield. This also means that having the ability to create a 'fog of war' is also necessary. Authors Jin Xiaoli and Gao Kai have argued for a variety of means and use of information to create "battlefield fog".
Key points emphasized by authors:
The fundamental purpose of creating "battlefield fog" is to reduce the enemy's perception ability and reduce the enemy's decision-making efficiency.
"The core of intelligent warfare lies in data and algorithms, and the key link lies in information fusion processing. It can be carefully designed through the entire combat process, using negative, supportive, disruptive, and confidential information to create a large amount of "fog" and interfere with the enemy's judgment." (智能化战争核心在数据、算法，关键环节在信息融合处理。可通过作战全过程精心设计，运用否定性、支撑性、干扰性、保密性信息，制造大量“迷雾”，干扰敌方判断。)
Target means trusted by adversaries for information.
Keep adjusting the disinformation and 'fog' campaign based on the reactions of adversary
How to Deal with 'Decision Fatigue'
As if written in response to the article above, another article in PLA daily describes "how commanders can deal with battlefield 'decision fatigue'." Starts with an explanation of what 'decision fatigue' means, how it happens, and how commanders should deal with it. The decision fatigue of leaders and commanders can be essential in winning wars. Because as the authors have also pointed out, the final result of war often depends not on how clever one side is, but on whether the other side makes mistakes.
Here is what authors Mao Weihao and Wang Suwang suggest is necessary to deal with 'decision fatigue':
Conserve willpower - avoid unnecessary consumption of willpower. This can be achieved by the following means"
Only make important decisions
Practice "single thread" thinking -
Focus on only one thing at a time
Avoid the "Zeigarnik effect" (蔡氏效应 Càishì xiàoyìng) - this essentially means when the task is not completed and the goal is not achieved, the attention will be scattered, which will consume willpower. (More on this in the InfoBytes section)
Stay away from temptation
Further, the authors also explore how 'decision advantage' can be achieved in war (targeted towards adversaries). They suggest forcing the other person to speed up the consumption of willpower. This is where the OODA cycle becomes important. Forcing an adversary to make a large number of decisions in a very short cycle will increase the chances of making mistakes.
Also, read this article published in 2020 which explores the application of unmanned swarms in full depth attacks
This refers to an effect when a person is more likely to remember an interrupted activity or experience and tends to forget activities or experiences that are 'complete'.
The effect was named after Soviet psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik. Her observation was that "subjects remember interrupted tasks better (and with greater frequency) than they remembered tasks they had completed" (Denmark, 2010).
This effect can be observed in our day-to-day life. For example, one is more likely to remember their first love more prominently because it was incomplete. One might not remember their 'successful' romantic experience with the same intensity. This connection of the Zeigarnik Effect with first love is elaborated in Chapter 3 of the book "每天要看的快樂心理學" (Měitiān yào kàn de kuàilè xīnlǐ xué) which roughly translates into "Psychology of Happiness to Consider Everyday" written by 躍青 (Yuè qīng). (Sadly, I don’t have a full copy of this book)
Zeigarnik Effect is referred to by PLA writers in one of the articles above about reducing 'decision fatigue' to reduce the 'fog of war.' Hence, if several tasks are incomplete, leaders will be more likely to remember those tasks first and get distracted and the willpower of leaders will reduce. This can contribute to 'decision fatigue.' Hence, Mao Weihao and Wang Suwang suggest reducing 'Zeigarnik Effect' (referred to as "蔡氏效应" Càishì xiàoyìng) to reduce 'decision fatigue' in commanders.
'Decision Fatigue' is a concept utilized in Cognitive Warfare. Zeigarnik Effect may contribute to 'decision fatigue' which then contributes to 'fog of war', which ultimately leads to mistakes that can cost war.
Love and war indeed :)
Megha Pardhi is a Research Analyst at The Takshashila Institution. She tweets at @pardhimegha21.