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IARPA is serious about video games

By next June, college students and professional intelligence analysts could be playing video games paid for by the intelligence community.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity wants to see if it can root out cognitive biases by having future analysts and veterans play specialized video games during training or professional workshops.

Soldiers train with video games. Credit: U.S. Army

IARPA calls the program Sirius as a play on the term serious games, which is what the simulation industry calls video games that are both instructive and fun.

The agency sent Deep Dive a prepared statement explaining that “cognitive biases are notoriously resistant to training.”

Cognitive biases shouldn't be confused with easy to spot prejudices or stereotypes, brain experts say. They're the shortcuts that our minds naturally seek when we’re presented with massive data dumps.

In September, IARPA chose five teams to build competing versions of the games for assessment next year following trials by college students. IARPA is in talks with potential “transition partners in the U.S. Government” to try out the games next year together with students. Those tests will have to show a 50 percent reduction in bias for the developers to proceed any further.

IARPA won’t say how much it’ll pay for the games, but last November, Raytheon BBN Technologies put out a press release placing the potential value of its multiyear contract at $10.5 million. The company was not selected for the new phase that began last month.

The winning teams are led by:

Applied Research Associates


SET Corporation (Now part of SAIC)

State University of New York at Albany

University of Oklahoma

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