The last few months I've been working on a military intelligence training simulator. It's a good example of the "serious games" trend which has been getting some press. In order to craft the various systems in the game, I've had to learn a few things about how the military gathers intelligence data - specifically about how the various collectors work. Things like Predator drones, JSTARS, and the like. Our product is unclassified - so the various abilities and properties we use for these collectors are coming from public information. Our military contacts sometimes imply that there are specific secret capabilities that we don't know about - but I can't speak to those. I just want to establish up front that everything I've learned about military intelligence has come from public sources - so I'm absolutely not exposing any state secrets here.
The specific story I want to relate has to do with the Prophet. I didn't know what a Prophet was initially - but it was on our list of collectors to simulate. All I knew was that it collected EM data - radio waves and the like. So I jumped on google and I got this picture:
When I look at this picture, it seems obvious to me that a Prophet is just a Jeep with a big antenna on it. Right? I don't think I'm going out too far on a limb with that one. So I gave it an average movement speed of 45 km/h, and a detection range of 15k, and moved on.
Fast forward a month or so, and we have some military folks on site evaluating our progress. Their knowledge of military doctrine was invaluable - but their lack of software development savvy was sometimes a stumbling point. One of them points at the screen and asks "what's that?" I look, and tell him that it's a Prophet moving into position to intercept a signal. He looks at me with a profoundly confused expression. He says "but Prophets can't move..." then he looks at me again, like maybe I'm hiding something, and starts to say "unless you're thinking about..."
I'll clarify right now that this particular guy had about a decade (or more) of direct intelligence work under his belt. He had learned by actually doing the job I was trying to train people for. And he had learned from direct experience in Iraq and Afghanistan that Prophets don't move. I'm not sure why that is - maybe they have to be hooked up to external power supplies, or maybe it's just dangerous or impractical to drive around with that huge antenna in the air. But he knew that Prophets didn't move.
I, on the other hand, had looked at the picture, and had assumed that Prophets drove around. I mean, they have wheels! And a steering column! Obviously they move! And in my defense, I believe that someone, somewhere, has driven this thing around at some time. But the reality didn't match my assumptions, and so I was wrong.
The really interesting thing about this exchange, for me, was the fact that the military expert read so much into my mistaken assumption. Instead of assuming that I had made a mistake based upon a very quick investigation, he went right down into obscure rabbit-holes of possibility - like maybe there was a new experimental Prophet which could be driven around, or maybe I was talking about a decoy Prophet, or some sort of counter intelligence misinformation scheme. But honestly my only thought process was "oh it's a Jeep."
I spend most of my time in a fairly cerebral space, where ideas are pretty fluid. It was really interesting and instructive to work so closely with someone who uses reality as a data set - who thinks all the time in terms of real, pre-existing things. I'm used to being wrong about things - but I don't generally confuse people with my mistakes - because people always assume that I'm working within a flexible structure. Working within reality is a very different beast.