September 30, 2008
Here's an interesting story from Fox News on Tuesday September 23, 2008. The United States government is testing a program, called MALINTENT, that will monitor and analyze facial features and other physical data to evaluate an individual's intent to do harm to others. The sensors would be used at airports, stadiums and other places where large numbers of people congregate or pass through.
It's a fascinating example of how the future keeps arriving more quickly and how our ability to digest these developments has a hard time keeping up. Orwell and Huxley come to mind, of course, as well as the pre-crime in Philip K. Dick's short story The Minority Report, which was made into a Spielberg film. (As far as we know, the government hasn't enlisted psychics into the program, so we still need to use scientific tools of measurement.)
If you want to feel more calm about this development, please ignore the name of the agency conducting the research: The Human Factors Division of the Directorate of Science and Technology of the Department of Homeland Security. I think they managed to combine state fascism, communist bureaucracy and general dehumanization with that one. A different kind of Triple Crown.
The best part of the story is the video link, which is six-plus minutes. The first half is a pitch made by the folks selling the mobile facility in which to conduct the tests. The second half is a few examples of the test in action.
There is a funny moment (nobody laughs) when the interrogator asks the subject who is about to attend a conference whether he plans to detonate an explosive at the event and then whether he plans to illegally record the event. So maybe this is really about copyright infringement rather than human safety.
The tension in the story and especially the video is that there is a point at which you think - I can't write about this, it's a joke or a skit. But it's not.
And the most interesting implication for the future has to do with the never-ending battle between offense and defense. ICBMs vs. missile defense shield. Spam vs. filters. What kinds of implants, distractors and feedback scramblers will be developed to combat this technology? Or are we approaching the end of the age of lying?
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