Message to the Modeling & Simulation Industry: Stop Living in a 'Bubble'
ORLANDO — The modeling and simulation industry has come a long way since Ed Link built the first flight training device in 1929. Yet, despite major technological progress, the industry remains a relatively obscure, niche sector about which most Americans know little about, a leading expert in the field said Nov. 30.
“We live in a bubble,” R. Bowen Loftin, president of Texas A&M University, said in a keynote address to the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education conference. “Modeling and simulation is something we know about, but guess what? The world around us doesn’t know much about it, and so one of the things I believe our job is, is to really educate the population in general about how much of a human activity modeling and simulation is.”
Before assuming leadership of Texas A&M at Galveston, Loftin served at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., as professor of electrical and computer engineering and professor of computer science. Additionally, he was Old Dominion’s director of simulation programs and had responsibility for the institution’s graduate programs in modeling and simulation. He also served as executive director of the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center.
According to Loftin, one critical problem for the industry is that the modeling and simulation community does not know how to distinguish or identify itself. “What is modeling and simulation? How do we really think about it? How do we define it? How do we talk about it? How do we communicate about it?” Loftin asked rhetorically.
Computer scientists faced the same challenge about their respective field during its nascent years in the 1950s and 1960s. “They crafted a ‘body of knowledge’ and went through a long process and came to consensus of what it is to be a computer scientist,” said Loftin. “We’re not there yet in modeling and simulation. Yet that is a fundamental barrier to our future success. We have to know who we are and what we do.”
The second challenge is to figure out whether academia, government or industry has more of an ownership over the field. “We all have a piece of it, but who really ‘owns’ it? That’s one of the bad problems, and one of the good problems,” he said. “We don’t want to see it limited, but lacking ownership means that no one has responsibility to try to define the field and move it forward in a real way.”
Professionals working in the modeling and simulation field also face hurdles that stem from a lack of recognition of the career specialty as a specific category of professional labor. Ongoing efforts to gain that designation with the government have failed in recent years.
A fourth challenge is to define who or what drives the research and development agenda. The military services and other government agencies are pursuing various programs to advance modeling and simulation, but there is not much cross fertilization among the efforts, and in many cases there is redundancy. There needs to be more coherence, Loftin said. There is some degree of consensus about how the medical side of modeling and simulation ought to move ahead, he noted, but that represents only a small component of the overall industry.
Academia, industry and government can work together to solve many of these problems, Loftin said. “Partnerships can chart the way,” he said. Industry needs to not be too insular and must reach out to adapt and adopt advances in other fields, such as serious games, that can help it to deliver training systems more readily and less expensively than before.
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