Special to American News Report
The term is “Improvised Explosive Device”— better known by the chilling acronym “IED”.
It is a favorite tool of terrorists and has killed U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. An IED was also used in the worst domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history in Oklahoma City at the Murrah Federal Building in 1995.
Warren Lerner is an Air Force combat veteran (Gulf War and Panama). When he decided to pursue his Doctor of Science degree at Capitol College in Laurel, Maryland, he had a thought.
Can we predict—using artificial intelligence– how terrorists are thinking and thus figure out how an IED will be planted and where it will be placed?
It turns out the answer is yes.
“Remember the goal of the terrorist is to do maximum damage, so we know that an IED is going to be placed where human beings — particularly combat soldiers — are,” Lerner explained.
What did he need to know?
In his doctoral work, Lerner started by looking at some of the basic questions that could influence a terrorist’s choice of location. Is the terrain flat, urban, or jungle? He also examined the ways IEDs can be housed. That could mean anything from hiding them in a soda can to burying them in a road or parking an explosives-laden truck outside a federal building in Oklahoma
Lerner turned to Capitol’s expertise in computer science and used the Digital Terrain Elevation Data (DTED)He then used software to predict where radio frequencies will be blocked, which is important since many IEDs are detonated by radio frequency and demand an uninterrupted line of sight to the explosive.
What he found was an accuracy rate that surprised even him.
The prediction of when and how an IED would be placed was 89% accurate in flat terrain and 87% in mountainous terrain.
Lerner was excited and he thought others would be too.
“And they were,” he said. “I gave a few speeches, and spoke with a lot of people in government. But as the wars have wound down, there doesn’t seem to be much appetite to advance this.”
For all of the federal money spent on the military and its preparation, little has so far been invested in prediction technology of the kind Lerner has been developing.
Creating a prototype that can be placed in a convoy of military vehicles driving down a dangerous road would cost around $250,000, Lerner estimates. The prototype would include developing the prediction software, a camera that scans terrain, and a computer to run the technology and camera.
“All of the elements are commercially available,” said Lerner.
Lerner’s journey from combat veteran to Doctor of Science is a great lesson for anyone wondering, “What am I going to do with my life?”
The answer for Lerner came when he was just a teenager with his introduction to the potential and power of technology.
“I was 13 when I had my first computer, and my life was focused on technology,” he said. “I even taught myself to write code.”
So he went right to college, right?
He joined the Air Force after high school in New Jersey, and saw combat in the first Gulf War and in Panama. After leaving active duty, he worked as a security guard at the Saudi Arabian embassy and later became a deputy sheriff in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Lerner decided in his late 20s to go back to school, and earned a bachelor’s degree while at the University of Maryland. That led to a masters and ultimately to Capitol College and the doctoral program in Information Assurance.
All of this while he was married with children and holding down a critical job at Zeta Associates in Fairfax, Virginia, which serves the intelligence community.
Lerner credits Capitol College for understanding how to attract the working professionals who are interested in pursuing graduation and helping make sure that they succeed.
“For the busy professional, you can’t beat Capitol College,” Lerner stated. “The value for what I paid versus what I received is off the charts.”
He said that he still uses the artificial Intelligence part of his doctoral research in his job on a daily basis.
Lerner has also returned to Capitol to teach as adjunct professor, part of “giving back” to a school that obviously matters to him.
Meanwhile, Lerner waits. He knows his doctoral work is important and that it not only has military application but can be used to fight domestic terrorism as well.
“If my work can save one person’s life, it will have been worth the time.”
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