Social and Cognitive Network Science: This research investigates the human behavioral aspects of networked operations. Distributed communication and decision making within and between groups constitute a particular area of interest.
Soldier Performance: This area is concerned with the human factors that impinge on the design of military systems, examining how those systems can be best configured for a human operator.
HRED has a vast and very important mandate: to understand the functions of the human-in-the-loop in a wide range of Army systems. The most sophisticated sensors, weapons, and information systems will not deliver their full potential if they are not well matched to the capabilities of the humans using them, in the conditions under which they are intended to be used. This human-in-the-loop domain includes a wide range of research topics, from basic to applied. Perhaps the fundamental challenge for an organization like HRED is how best to select some subset of the nearly infinite number of possible topics for study.
The directorate’s response to this challenge can be understood by considering the nature of HRED. Two visions, not mutually exclusive, compete to shape HRED’s activities: Is HRED intended to make significant contributions to the peer-reviewed scientific enterprise in the manner of a university laboratory? Is it supposed to be applying the basic science of others to specific issues raised by its Army customers? Presumably, the answer is “yes” to both questions, but those goals live in necessary tension with each other. Customer-based, applied work is of obvious importance, but the results will often be too specific to be interesting to the broader scientific community. Basic science projects must proceed with the understanding that they might fail or, perhaps more typically, that they will produce valid, statistically significant results of no apparent near-term use to the Army. The accumulation of such results is the required cost for those much rarer basic science breakthroughs that transform practical systems and operations. In a perfect world, resources and personnel would be available to prosecute all of the interesting and valuable projects from the basic and applied realms. In the real world, HRED must continually wrestle with the balance of its allocations of time and money.
The issues surrounding the selection of research topics seem to be handled more successfully in some branches of HRED than in others. There are selection mechanisms in place. For example, at the large scale these include Army Technology Objectives (ATOs)—project proposals must describe how the project contributes to formally defined ATOs. At a finer grain, individual research proposals may be reviewed by Army Research Laboratory (ARL) fellows, experts in their scientific domains, whose appraisals of proposed projects are provided to the ARL Director, who decides whether to allocate to proposed projects discretionary funds for the initiation of research. The effectiveness of this rather complex and bureaucratic system varies across HRED. Leaders with clear vision can use the system to shape effective research programs. In other cases, the system may overwhelm the vision.
One means of alleviating, though not eliminating, the problems of project selection is to increase resources. The Collaborative Technology Alliances (CTAs) in Cognition and Neuroergonomics, in Network Science with the Computational and Information Sciences Directorate (CISD), and in Robotics with the Vehicle Technology Directorate (VTD), are important mechanisms for increasing the capability to contribute to fundamental science in these areas.