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Pre-Crime Detection: Recognizing Terrorists Ahead of Time


So apparently the US Dept. of Homeland Security is gonna try out its very own version of the Minority Report. The Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) purports to recognize people intending to commit a terrorist act. It has recently completed a battery of field tests at an “undisclosed location”. FAST is intended to supplement current TSA screening measures like SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique), all designed to identify potential threats.

Cops have used behavioral cues and psychophysiological responses during interviews and interrogations for years. They’re even teaching it to Marines now, as part of the Combat Hunter program. Simply put, a comparison of behavior against established patterns, context and relevance help to predict human action. FAST operates in a similar fashion by observing such potential clues as blink rate, body movement, facial temperature (measured by stand-off thermal cameras) and BioLIDAR, which measures heart rate and respiration.

Unlike “predictive” devices like a polygraph, FAST’s sensors do not come in direct contact with subjects being monitored nor does it depend on direct questioning. This allows them to evaluate people walking down a hallway, for instance, or standing in line. This allows leads to the inevitable (and arguably deserved) Orwellian/Big Brother connection, and of course the obvious Minority Report reference. To be fair, FAST doesn’t appear to rely on psychics in a big pool of water, but its critics say the comparison isn’t far off the mark even as proponents carefully explain how accurate the system can be.

Says Steven Aftergood, senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, "I believe that the premise of this….an identifiable physiological signature uniquely associated with malicious intent…is mistaken.” However, it’s hard to dispute the success law enforcement has enjoyed with Human Behavior Pattern Recognition, and organizations like the Center for Aggression Management provide compelling arguments toward the ability to recognize and evaluate “emerging human aggression”.

Much of FAST is being developed by the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, an independent, not-for-profit, research centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They think the system is awesome.

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