An Ask System for TRANSCOM

When the Gulf War broke out, it presented designers of ASK systems with a terrific opportunity. The key problem in building the kinds of teaching systems we are proposing is in acquiring the right expertise to put into them. It is easy enough to get experts who are great story tellers to talk to us so that we can put their stories into an ASK system, although doing this requires a great deal of time and effort. But to make an ASK system successful, there needs to be a real user at the other end. We need to know who will be asking the questions of the ASK system and why they will be asking the questions.

The military certainly wants to learn from its experiences in the Gulf War. New weather, new allies, new weapons, tremendous distances- all contributed to the new problems and solutions the military needs to keep on file. The military is, of course, well aware of the need for these kinds of records, but does not currently have a good way of capturing and using them. Like many businesses, it writes lists of "lessons learned" but these are usually either too abstract to be of much value or too detailed to wade through. It also employs historians who write lengthy reports, but it is difficult to get the right bits of information buried in these reports to the right person at the right time.

We proposed to build an ASK system, TransASK, to fill the military's need. The Advanced Research Projects Agency agreed to fund our idea, and in a few months, work on the TransASK system had begun. TransASK is designed to serve as a job aid, training tool, and reference aid for officers assigned to the United States Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). TRANSCOM is a joint military command that carries the responsibility of planning, coordinating, and scheduling military transportation in wartime and, more recently, in peacetime.

One of the interesting aspects of the TransASK system is how challenging its charter is. Our goal with most learning by exploring software is to build systems students will be able to tap into to answer their questions. TransASK, however, was built for practitioners. Practitioners may pose some of the same questions as students, but many of their questions will be more advanced and detailed. Nevertheless, the structure of this domain and the process of building the ASK system for it are similar to those used in building other ASK systems.

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