2018 Summer Intern Fellow:
Mac Gagne | Center for Strategic & International Studies

End of Summer Reflection
August 2018

When contemplating the impact of this summer’s experience, my thoughts instantly go back to that very first day that I arrived in DC. Upon coming into the city, I was instantly both nervous and excited. Touring the capitol area during the city’s pride parade, it felt good to visit DC again where even the normal hustle and bustle seemed to speak volumes about the world and the political decisions that make it turn about its axis every single day. In bewilderment and wonder, however, I still held one primary fear upon returning to such a place. When I presented my research at the Pentagon in 2016, Washington seemed the pinnacle of excitement and adventure- a glowing emblem of truth, knowledge, and justice. Even once I returned to Ohio after that faithful trip, I dreamt of walking the downtown streets everyday to work, taking the metro like so many other important scholars, and waltzing down the halls of the Pentagon like those I admired so much. DC to me became an icon of hope- a perfect dream for the future. However, upon arriving to DC this summer, I could not help but dangerously wonder- would the city and my experience live up to my childish expectations? Or would I wake up to a new world without my faithful pair of rose-colored glasses?

My summer in DC started off a little more uneventful than I would have liked. The mad scramble to find a new position was more than a little stressful after my clearance didn’t come in on time. Yet, hit was the agonizing wait for more information that was unfathomably worse. However, as the days continued to pass, I began to feel reassured by Duke’s absolutely incredibly alumni network. While it would be a while until I found someone who knew of an open position, the experience of talking to previous Duke students about their jobs in national defense and policy was immensely rewarding in it of itself. From intelligence community discussions on park benches to crowded café conversations about war-gaming, I had the honor of seeing into an alumni’s world and asking them questions about their professional experiences. Plus, what better way to sample all of DC’s finest coffee shops! The Duke in DC and summer AGS event were also fantastic. At first, I was quite nervous to meet so many incredibly people all in one place during these meetings- I felt like such a nerdy math geek surrounded by polished and professional individuals. However, it wasn’t long before learning that the people around me were secretly just as nerdy and involved with their work as I was- the feeling of belonging was incredible! One of my best memories this summer was driving back into the city with other AGS fellows as we looked out at the capitol city sparkling in its night-time glory.

As I learned of an open CSIS position, I had the exciting opportunity to take part in one of my first professional in-person interviews. While intimidating at first, I was amazed to find myself growing more comfortable by the second with the Defense Industrial Initiatives Group, as I soon learned their passion for statistics and computer modeling. While I made my fair share of mistakes those first days after accepting the job (walking into a glass walls, spilling tea, going in for that half-hand shake half-high five confusion), I began to see myself as someone who did deserve to work in a place as incredible as CSIS. Upon gradually coming to this realization, I began to feel more and more independent in my work and confident in my choices. I no longer

needed to check in with my supervisors about small details, and began completing activities and projects without doubting my choices or expertise. I loved being able to ask those around me incredible questions about their work and past jobs in government and national security. I grew closer with my fellow interns, and we shared stories of stressful polygraphs, cute dog photos, and aggravating security clearances. As the days of July turned into August, I finally felt I too was moving in rhythm with the important members of such an important city. I woke up to the street lamps turning off at 6 AM and fell asleep to them blinking on that evening. I bought my own food, made my own money, kept my own apartment, and even managed to look after the two pet fish I dragged with me! Though obstacles never ceased in the job, I learned to overcome them to the point where a barrier no longer seemed a terrifying as it had the day before. As DC ate, slept, and breathed incoming news, I did too, moving in synch with each article update and press conference. After all, the only thing us interns responded faster to than calls for free food on the 6th floor was updates in the post!

On the weekends, I would travel the capitol city and go to as many museums as possible. In particular, I loved seeing the new Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. At the staff summer party, I played catcher in the CSIS softball game, and witnessed some of America’s most dedicated analysts talk smack with one another between sips of Gatorade. And while Monday would eventually come with its workload and barrage of events and updates, the Washington monument would always be there every morning glinting in the morning sun, ever faithful.

While I have received incomparable advice and direction to help guide me in my Defense and Operations Research Program II major, my internship in DC has taught me more than just what classes to take and where to search for a job. Working for CSIS allowed me to gain confidence in my decisions more so than I ever could have anticipated. Despite my continued studies into the human decision making process, I remained quite indecisive as an individual, paralyzed by just how free we are to make our own decisions in life. Working for such an incredible group has helped me solidify my confidence and trust my decisions so much so that I have already begun looking for additional internships in the city for next summer! In all honesty, DC is not the city it was when I last visited. But as the rose colored glasses come off, I am more than grateful for the even better view of the place I one day hope to call home- one of truth, confidence, and a little bit of hope when the going gets tough.

 

Even Ambassadors Run into Glass Walls Sometimes
8/10/2018

When brainstorming my Program II major earlier this year, I found myself a little lost and nervous that my desire to study mathematical modeling in defense had no sound place in reality. Thus, while I had heard the DoD was in search of more mathematicians, scientists, and statisticians, I was nervous I would leave Duke unaware of where to turn to for employment. By deciding to become a Program II major, my academic track is not a set of requirements to be filled but more of a responsibility under my direction. I was enraptured with the freedom to explore the academic directions in life that I choose, but this freedom comes with a lot of weight and insecurity all stressing the importance of making the perfect career move with every single decision. During this past year, I found it hard at times to remain resilient and strong in knowing that my unique path of study, while different from everyone else at Duke, was indeed the right decision for me. Thus, before heading to Washington this summer, I made a resolution to assure myself that statistics in defense was indeed the place I wanted to be, and that committing myself to the rigors and restrictions of a life in defense were worth their trouble. And boy was I in store to learn a lot!

Working for CSIS as a part of the Defense Industrial Initiatives Group has been more of a unique blessing than a job to say at the least. During my time here, I have not only gained a sense of where my studies belong in the national security world, but have been introduced to the defense community and its beliefs that I one day hope to dedicate my life too. This summer, going to work everyday was an adventure. I learned something new every single day, constantly surprised by the insight I obtained. I have adored working with people who are the same brand of nerd I am now confident to call myself- the ones who love to geek out about artificial intelligence and international relations, dream of living fast-paced lives, and who are uncompromisingly dedicated to defending their country with honor and humility.

​While here at CSIS, I have learned the answers to question I didn’t know I had, investigated corners of an intellectual world I only sensed existed, and came to comprehend concepts I previously thought incomprehensible. From the perspective I have been given through CSIS, the politicians and defense leaders I have looked up to my whole life have gone from being god-like headliners to real human beings trying to make a difference in this world. They too are human beings trying to make a difference in this world- they make mistakes and teach us that we shouldn’t be afraid to try and fail in order to reach success. I came into CSIS and Duke in general quite nervous to make any error, hoping that perfection was a concept within my grasp. Petrified by fear, I accidently walked into one of the glass walls on my team’s floor, spilling tea all over the floor. Needless to say I was embarrassed at the implied lack of professionalism. But in a full-circle sort of way, I learned today (one of my last days here) that even the Nigerian ambassador has walked into these notoriously transparent glass walls! It seemed the perfect way to say that everyone makes mistakes sometimes no matter how important they might be, but that the lessons we learn from failure are the miracle fuel that guides one to success.

​Fear of failure only impedes the learning process, and just because you fail at something doesn’t mean you yourself are a failure. It simply shows that your solution to the problem at hand didn’t work, but that you are free to try again and again (within reason). By hearing from my mentors, co-workers, bosses, and fellow interns I have seen how their successes and failures have brought them to work for incredible agencies, firms, and think tanks like CSIS in a fantastically dizzying whirlwind of adventures. So no matter your failures, your successes, or how many glass walls you walk into, each human is valid, powerful, and worthy of defending- and THAT is the true meaning behind defense.

 

Even Ambassadors Run into Glass Walls Sometimes
8/10/2018

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When brainstorming my Program II major earlier this year, I found myself a little lost and nervous that my desire to study mathematical modeling in defense had no sound place in reality. Thus, while I had heard the DoD was in search of more mathematicians, scientists, and statisticians, I was nervous I would leave Duke unaware of where to turn to for employment. By deciding to become a Program II major, my academic track is not a set of requirements to be filled but more of a responsibility under my direction. I was enraptured with the freedom to explore the academic directions in life that I choose, but this freedom comes with a lot of weight and insecurity all stressing the importance of making the perfect career move with every single decision. During this past year, I found it hard at times to remain resilient and strong in knowing that my unique path of study, while different from everyone else at Duke, was indeed the right decision for me. Thus, before heading to Washington this summer, I made a resolution to assure myself that statistics in defense was indeed the place I wanted to be, and that committing myself to the rigors and restrictions of a life in defense were worth their trouble. And boy was I in store to learn a lot!

Working for CSIS as a part of the Defense Industrial Initiatives Group has been more of a unique blessing than a job to say at the least. During my time here, I have not only gained a sense of where my studies belong in the national security world, but have been introduced to the defense community and its beliefs that I one day hope to dedicate my life too. This summer, going to work everyday was an adventure. I learned something new every single day, constantly surprised by the insight I obtained. I have adored working with people who are the same brand of nerd I am now confident to call myself- the ones who love to geek out about artificial intelligence and international relations, dream of living fast-paced lives, and who are uncompromisingly dedicated to defending their country with honor and humility.

​While here at CSIS, I have learned the answers to question I didn’t know I had, investigated corners of an intellectual world I only sensed existed, and came to comprehend concepts I previously thought incomprehensible. From the perspective I have been given through CSIS, the politicians and defense leaders I have looked up to my whole life have gone from being god-like headliners to real human beings trying to make a difference in this world. They too are human beings trying to make a difference in this world- they make mistakes and teach us that we shouldn’t be afraid to try and fail in order to reach success. I came into CSIS and Duke in general quite nervous to make any error, hoping that perfection was a concept within my grasp. Petrified by fear, I accidently walked into one of the glass walls on my team’s floor, spilling tea all over the floor. Needless to say I was embarrassed at the implied lack of professionalism. But in a full-circle sort of way, I learned today (one of my last days here) that even the Nigerian ambassador has walked into these notoriously transparent glass walls! It seemed the perfect way to say that everyone makes mistakes sometimes no matter how important they might be, but that the lessons we learn from failure are the miracle fuel that guides one to success.

​Fear of failure only impedes the learning process, and just because you fail at something doesn’t mean you yourself are a failure. It simply shows that your solution to the problem at hand didn’t work, but that you are free to try again and again (within reason). By hearing from my mentors, co-workers, bosses, and fellow interns I have seen how their successes and failures have brought them to work for incredible agencies, firms, and think tanks like CSIS in a fantastically dizzying whirlwind of adventures. So no matter your failures, your successes, or how many glass walls you walk into, each human is valid, powerful, and worthy of defending- and THAT is the true meaning behind defense.

Artificial Intelligence, Softball, and Buzz Aldrin Punching People in the Face: Week 2-3
7/27/2018

​In between extended discussion about current news and sixty-second scrambles to the sixth floor for free food, I am excited to report that my adventures as an intern at CSIS continue to teach me what the world of strategic studies entails. These past two weeks since my last post have been incredible, as I have been exposed to even more defense industrial work and analysis than ever before.

This past week, the CSIS DIIG team was the proud host of a fourth workshop in defense-related artificial intelligence- a fantastic experience which I feel I learned a lot from. The conference brought together leaders in artificial intelligence from around the defense community to debate the ethical, strategic, and security-based repercussions of certain decisions in AI. Previous workshop topics also included discussions as to what constitutes as artificial intelligence, and distinguishing machine learning from AI. One of the debates I have found most interesting is that relating to the accountability of AI decisions. It is no lie that the world is facing a crisis of accountability as seen in the new pertaining to our nation’s current administration. To use some media jargon, this “post-truth” world we live in poses some major debates about how consequences are to be delivered to a guilty party. However, this debate has a reserved spot in AI-related discussions as well. As we’ve seen with recent events involving Facebook and Google, there is a desire to blame poor decisions on software as a means to escaping accountability for privacy violations and misconduct. Yet, is there any truth in blaming poor decisions on software instead of its human creators?

As someone who studies the mathematical modeling of human decision theory, there exists an undeniable overlap with artificial intelligence (an overlap I may indeed choose to pursue as a career one day). As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have fallen in love with the concept of existentialism as it applies to decision theory. Existentialism suggests that human existence precedes essence, essentially (haha) meaning how we choose to live our lives defines our identity more than what we are initially are born into with respect to self-actualization. With this in mind, I cannot help but argue that if a machine is created to makes its own decisions, then its identity is effectively at fault for making said decision.
However, an important note on this discussion is the difference between conceptualizing an action and actually performing said action. A decision is essentially the exact moment that a though enters reality- it is the bridge between the conceptual and the actual world- the exact moment a behavior is born. However, most AI in defense (currently) are not the ones acting upon their decision- they are merely theorizing actions. With this in mind, it is the individual who carries out the decisions (therefore, the one who turns the conceptual action into an actual action) that remains at fault and is deserving of consequences- in this case, humans. However, when it comes to creating AI that acts upon its own decision, the line gets fuzzier and is worth of the intense discussion it is receiving. Can we train an AI to recognize the difference between good and bad decisions? What is the format of an ethical decision? And are ethics an essential quality or one we learn by existence? All are important philosophical questions that need answering before AI is to be used as a weapon. So as you can imagine, there have been some heavy-hitting discussions here at CSIS, some very early in the morning! But hey- that’s what coffee is here for, right?

Speaking of heavy-hitting, this past week I was also introduced to the strange but amazing world of government/corporate softball- a D.C. tradition I was more than happy to participate in. I guess that my one semester as an outfielder for the 7thgrade softball team DID help me out in the long run! At the corporate picnic last Friday, the Whippersnappers faced off against the Geezers (30+ - I guess I’m 11 years away from being a geezer!) in an intense match. While not as intense as the supposedly mythical game between CIA and FBI teams, the competition was tough. However, while the Geezer team unfortunately beat us Whippersnappers 10 to 7, I was proud to play catcher for a single inning.

In terms of other exciting news, the ISP’s space defense team next door to DIIG held a conference earlier this week with one of the big attendees being Buzz Aldrin. While DIIG interns were not invited to attend the event, it was exciting to be just 4 floors above the space legend (and hear the space defense intern’s tales of him supposedly punching a conspiracy theorist in the Facebook in a YouTube video). Furthermore, Northrop Grumman came in the other day to teach the team more about the engineering behind stealth aviation- an aerodynamic lesson one could only dream about! Finally, I continue to learn more from my mentor about Japanese-American international relations, and hope to get some tips on learning Japanese before school starts this fall!

All in all these past weeks continue to be an incredible learning experience. As I walk past the White House every morning, waving at the nearby secret service dogs, I cannot help but think about how thankful I am to be learning from the best of the best in DC about the field I love the most- even if the weather lately HAS been more of a monsoon season!

 

DIIG-ing up some Good Defense Strategy
7/13/2018

This past week, I began work at CSIS, enjoying my first taste of think-tank and office life. From coffee-stained CIA mugs to ominous intern insignias (pictured above), I find myself quite at home in the Defense Industrial-Initiatives Group (DIIG). To say the least, I am fascinated by think-tank life. I had no idea that a place where research both political and statistical in nature could live in such perfect harmony in such a creative and open-minded matter. Housed on the 5th floor right down the hall from Space Defense (Space force, anyone?), I have found a place that studies strategy from a mathematical standpoint for genuinely the first time in my academic life. While copyediting, outlining, and taking notes in meetings might seem boring when mentioned on this blog, I have been given the incredible honor of reading through some of the most creative and insightful works of statistical defense analysis I have ever encountered. As I continue to adjust to this new environment and learn from the others around me, I only hope that the discoveries I make on a day to day basis continue- so bear with me as I record some of the more prominent memories of this first week!

In sitting down at my desk the first day, I was also amazed to find reports from past years stacked in the corner. On my journey to understand the nature of strategy in a mathematical light, I have stumbled upon DIIG’s unique way of assessing DoD decisions scientifically: by understanding the spending choices of the defense department through statistical analysis, the delicate human decision-making process I continue to try and comprehend shines through. Statistics allows one to process the data of the past to understand all that has happened. And by simply just copy-editing reports of said data, I feel as if I’m being taught by the best of the best how to mathematically understand recently made decisions. With intricate conclusions laid out through use of r code, it is as if I am finally realizing how math can follow (and eventually catch up to) the high-risk world of strategic decisions in the military and defense community.

While awaiting my first assignments, I was also able to read up on CSIS’s previous work pertaining to everything from defense acquisition trends to the implications of AI in national security. One report in particular stood out to me- a program for the 3rd annual International Defense Technology Security Conference. As I flipped through I was amazed to see work from not just America, but Korea, Germany, Sweden, the UK and many others. I found it so amazing that DIIG not only considers American perspectives on defense, but works to assimilate the views of other nations into their work. The fact that Germany looks at war games in a different light as opposed to America, Korea, or China was fantastic to learn, as it shows yet another unique perspective on the subject I am interested in. I am fascinated with how strategy is comprehended in different ways all around the world. As long intern discussions continue as to if strategy is a science or an art, I hope to further unravel the nature of defense’s high-risk decision-making foreground.

 

"Your major is...what exactly?"
7/6/2018

“Saying you study strategy is about the same as saying you study science”- these were the words from one of many incredible Duke alums I have had the honor of speaking with these past few weeks in DC. Frankly, I couldn’t agree with these words more. This past year and a half for me has more or less been an intellectual journey in discovering what strategy really means, and how one can go about studying strategic thinking. The word “strategy” itself is not only puzzling, but incredibly vague- it is thrown about in conversations and tacked onto the end of sentences so often. But even after that, no one really knows what it truly is.

As a kid, I was fascinated with how humans could simulate the real world. From endless games of make-believe to hours playing on the computer, the idea of humans creating a reality identical to our own as a way of understanding how the world worked was the epitome of my interest. Being quite the science nerd, I would watch things in motion in the world around me and try my hardest to imagine their paths as mathematical equations. In elementary school, I was obsessed with how physics studied the relationship between math and the real world- I had read through the library’s physics self by the end of 5thgrade, went to numerous physics camps in the summer (yup, I was THAT kid), and danced around the house when my favorite theoretical physicist wrote back to a letter I had sent in 7thgrade. However, as I began to take physics courses in high school, I was terrified to realize I was bored with the motion of everyday objects. At the time, my algae project I’m known best for was really taking off. I had so many incredibly mentors in the biological sciences, and their love for understanding humanity was rubbing off more than a little. But this got me thinking- what if there was a way to understand human interactions by modeling them with mathematics, just like physics modeled motion? Nevertheless, as adult life grew closer and closer, I also began to wonder if there was a way to use mathematics to hack decision-making. I became very interested in game theory (John Nash was quite the popular topic of discussion), and started seeing if I could understand how decisions were made in games like chess. However, my 2016 meeting at the Pentagon with Deputy Assistant Secretary to the Navy’s Department of Energy Joe Bryan opened my eyes to a new domain of high-risk decision making: national defense. As Dr. Fever said upon our first meeting, I “caught the bug” for national defense quite quickly. I was intrigued with understanding what battle strategy was and if there was any chance of using math to make the life and death decisions any easier.

It was that which spurred my interest in strategy. At Duke, I broke down studying strategy and its relationship with math into three categories: predicting the behaviors of others, understanding what good decisions are, and understanding the implications of actions- a step by step walk through per say of all involved with making a single decision. Statistics can be used to understand how humans act on average when faced with certain circumstances. Game theory (and the math it entails) can also model rational human decisions (when a particular goal is implemented), and psychology can be used to understand how irrational decisions are made. Furthermore, computer science aids in creating these models. And finally, an understanding of ethics, philosophy, and sociology can be used to understand the implications of a decision being made. By utilizing Duke’s Program II create-your-own-major option, I can therefore tackle this defense based strategy-math relationship by studying the likes of statistics, mathematics, decision science, game theory, psychology, sociology, computer science philosophy, political science, and ethics. As you can probably imagine, I don’t sleep (but then again, that’s a more than normal occurrence here at Duke!) but it is a field of study I am fascinated by daily. Existentialism argues that existence precedes essence, which more or less means how we choose to live our lives outweighs what we are initially given in life. With this in mind, I truly believe that human decisions are the key to unlocking what if means to be human -- and that is a question worth waking up to every day.

But how does this play into this summer at all? The Center for Strategic and International Studies to me is the best possible place to go in order to continue my search for the scientific nature of national strategy. As one of the best think tanks in the world, they know better than anyone how mathematics and statistics can aid in assisting even the hardest of decisions. By working there, I hope to not only understand how this growing field of strategic math modeling fits into the defense and intelligence community career wise, but also learn from some of the best thinkers in the world what strategy truly is. Join me on this journey to unlock the science behind strategy -- I hope you’re just as excited as I am!