Remember the Star Trek episode in which characters are caught in a parallel, alternate universe?
The Defense Department (and possibly the Homeland Security Department) is developing something very much like that, but the alternate earthlings -- that's you and me -- are almost exactly like us.
Defense and DHS have been working with Purdue University professors to build an alternate cyberworld, in which billions of cyber-individuals based on real people live. The agencies can use the cyberworld to simulate what would happen if, say, food and water are cut off from a population, if utilities fail, a bomb goes off in a city, or whatever natural of man-made disaster (read asymmetric warfare) occurs.
The program, called Sentient World Simulation (SWS), will "'generate alternative futures with outcomes based on interactions between multiple sides,' said Purdue University professor Alok Chaturvedi, co-author of the SWS concept paper," according to an article posted by The Register. A commercial version is available through Simulex Inc., which Chaturvedi founded.
The Purdue creators use publicly available information -- census data, job titles, birth dates and even if you own a dog -- to create the world as closely to the real one as possible. The program applies the latest psychological theories on group and individual behaviors, as well as financial and economic theories, to mimic as closely as possible what would happen if certain events occurred. Other data could be culled from social networking sites such as MySpace and Face Book. Much of the work is based on the theory of Alternate Reality (which is closely related to Augmented Reality, as some call it).
Could run-ins with privacy advocates be in the not-so-distant future?