Published: July 10, 2024
Category: Essays | News
AI-generated artwork [v 6.0 -- 3:2] iterated by Dr. Keith Brawner using MidJourney* w/prompt: "Ron Cobb** concept design image of a military holodeck of the future, made of glass and steel, holodeck, star trek, star wars, dune Arrakis, starship troopers, futurism concept drawing" |

BYLINE: Keith Brawner, PhD, Program Manager, ICT; Senior Scientist/Engineer, US Army DEVCOM Soldier Center 

AI-generated artwork [v 6.0 -- 3:2] iterated by Dr. Keith Brawner using MidJourney* w/prompt: "Ron Cobb** concept design image of a military holodeck of the future, made of glass and steel, holodeck, star trek, star wars, dune Arrakis, starship troopers, futurism concept drawing" * Dr. Melissa Roemmele, Research Scientist, MidJourney (former grad student, ICT) **The late Ron Cobb, conceptual artist on Star Wars - and for ICT in its early days

Dr. Keith Brawner is the Program Manager of the Institute for Creative Technologies University Affiliated Research Center (ICT UARC) for the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, as managed by the US Army DEVCOM Soldier Center, where he is also the lead for AI initiatives. 

In 2011, I was working for the Army Research Laboratory and received a presentation from ICT on the new realistic graphics being developed within military training technologies. That was when the UARC (in affiliation with USC) first captured my imagination. It was (as now!) at the bleeding edge of technology, and had recently won its first Academy Award. It struck me as a one-of-a-kind place within the DoD. 

As a UARC for the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USD(R&E)), ICT must have unique Core Competencies which separate it from other UARCs, and it does. But it also maintains distinctiveness in all aspects. This makes it a joy to work with – and to utilize for national defense. ICT’s unique core competencies in the areas of realism, simulation, the behaviors within simulations, and the application of simulation technology into education, training, and operations make it world-class. 

In the area of realism ICT has won Academy Awards, which is certainly unique among the DoD, but it has also developed the HDR Shop used in many games and simulations. The visualization of these realistic technologies birthed the virtual and augmented reality industries directly through spin-out activities. At the individual level of simulation, ICT’s Virtual Human Toolkit has been utilized in dozens of military training tools, deployed in dozens of STEM-outreach applications, and has more commercial items than I can discuss. In fact, an industry is starting to rise around these technologies.

At the collective level of simulation, ICTs technologies have instructed key decision-makers on how to manage country-level peace-keeping. ICTs human behaviors within simulations are currently training many individuals on interpersonal communications, such as within the SHARP schoolhouses, and also doing research into how to better model OPFOR actions for training both large and small combat operations. 

Insofar as education, training, and operations – ICT has been unique in its works with the Army University on teaching AI, with the training injects into the Synthetic Training Environment program, and the operational deployment of counter-IED training semi-trucks training into Iraq and Afghanistan which trained tens of thousands of Warfighters. Within the research community, it is somewhat unique to deploy things downrange.

ICT is also unique in its business model as a DoD UARC partnered with a private university. The business model of the ICT for the DoD is to produce the research and results within its areas, and provide deep technological reach-back capability across all major scientific disciplines. In the coming years, ICT’s status as a unit within the Viterbi School of Engineering, alongside its sister institute, the Information Sciences Institute, will leverage USC talent in areas such as microelectronics and quantum computing to enhance DoD training and operations. 

ICT freely gives its technology back to the Government, but also maintains a robust commercial technology transition office, collaborating on numerous technologies with private industry for non-defense applications. The robustness and seamlessness of this utilization is unparalleled. 

ICT is unique in its service associated with the military, and can serve as trusted and unbiased advisors into Government. The DoD has utilized this directly in their development of the One World Terrain program, to name just one project deserving of the Army’s top civilian honor – the Distinguished Civilian Service Award. The ability of the UARC to provide technical expertise side-by-side with Government employees is unique to UARCs in their policy guidance allowing “close to inherently Governmental Functions.” 

By being headquartered in Los Angeles, ICT draws on the entertainment capital of the world, where one in eight jobs is related to the creative industries, and many of its residents are triple hyphenates, holding several concurrent roles within the industry. Many of ICT’s staff and freelance contributors are creatives, contributing professional-quality scripts and scenarios to Government projects, delivering exquisitely shot materials, featuring top notch acting talent. ICT’s collaborations with the entertainment industry have brought a new level of realism and

engagement to military training simulations. Imagine the excitement as a soldier dons a headset and steps into a fully immersive virtual battlefield, complete with Hollywood-caliber sound design, special effects, and even actors playing key roles. 

ICT is also unique in its contracting mechanisms and flexibility. The ICT UARC, for its areas of specialty, has the type of contracting only dreamt about within acquisition circles. The USD(R&E) authority allows my office to have ~1 week to the start of execution on critical projects, virtually unlimited ceiling, templated requirements, and guaranteed deliverables, Government rights, and functionally no fee. Simply put, we pay for work and we get it because of ICTs unique contractual relationship as a trusted DoD research center. 

The ICT itself is a hotbed of creativity and cutting-edge research, where interdisciplinary teams of military scientists, technologists, and artists come together to explore the vast potential of technology in military training and operations. This unique partnership has produced groundbreaking advancements in virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, all with the goal of enhancing military readiness and capability. 

In running a research center on behalf of the Army on behalf of the DoD, the uniqueness of the ICT work, business, military service, creative enterprises, contracting, academic relationships, entertainment industry connections, and, most importantly, the assistance it has provided to the nation, are unparalleled within its charter. Each day I am proud and honored to serve as its Program Manager.