The ‘Person of Interest’ Machine – The Air Force wants it!

If you are fan of spy-ish adventure show, you have probably given CBS “Person of Interest” a gander. If not, its decent to pretty good, depending on the episode. On my DVR list. The premise is that a reclusive Billionarie tech wizard known only as “Finch” (Played by Lost’s Benjimin Linus – actor Micheal Emerson)buidls a ‘machine’ for the government that integrates all forms of surveillence across the country with breakthrough artificial intelligence to identify “Persons of Interest” – people who are highly probable to be perpetrators or victims based on their activities. Disturbed that the government was going to only act on output from “the Machine” that had national security implications, our genius put a back door in teh machine that sent him the social security numbers of the highest liklihood “persons of interest”.

Enlisting former CIA operative Reese (the show likes singular names…played by Jim Caveizal) as his invetigator/action officer, each episode follows the formula of getting a name, figuring out if they are a good guy or bad guy, and either protecting them or bringing them to justice (sometimes “with extreme prejudice”…).

The lead ins from each commecial break show “the machine eye view” of the world with reticles tacking faces and text of conversations, texts and if close enough lip reading on the screen. This somewhat dystopian segue adds an interesting context to plot that hashes out.

Enter the Air Force. I’m not sure what it is about the Air Force culture, but they have a penchant for thinking technology can cure every ill. Suffering a rather bloddy rebuke from a Marine General at JFCOM regarding their darling “Effects-based warfare” a few years back, they seem to believe that the problem of not being able to know what it is the bad guys are going to do means they just have to create a technology that can tell them beforehand what the bad guys are going to do. Bouyed by snake-oil salesman touting “predictive intelligence”, the Air Force has dabbled for years with notions of how such a capability would return their Newtonian Effects-based warfare ideas to primacy in a world where “what happens next” is stuck inside peoples heads.

This piece in Wired’s Danger Room discusses the desire of the chief Scientist of the Air Force to create Finch’s Machine. At least in part. calling it “Social Radar” he talks about it “seeing into the hearts and miinds of people”.

Does he really mean it? Is he serioously proposing a mind-reading machine? Appears so. “Don’t just give me a weather forecast, Air Force, give me an enemy movement forecast.’ What’s that about? That’s human behavior. And so [we need to] understand what motivates individuals, how they behave.”

And if you question if the vision really rivals the scale and pervasiveness of Finch’s Person of Interest Machine. Dr. Maybury describes his “Machine” thus:

Using biometrics, Social Radar will identify individuals, Maybury noted in his original 2010 paper on the topic for the government-funded MITRE Corporation. Using sociometrics, it will pinpoint groups. Facebook timelines, political polls, spy drone feeds, relief workers’ reports, and infectious disease alerts should all pour into the Social Radar, Maybury writes, helping the system keep tabs on everything from carbon monoxide levels to literacy rates to consumer prices. And “just as radar needs to overcome interference, camouflage, spoofing and other occlusion, so too Social Radar needs to overcome denied access, censorship, and deception,” he writes.

The paper opines that radar “provided a superhuman ability to see objects at a distance through the air., and connects the dots to the need for a new superhuman capability:

“Accordingly, a social radar needs to be not only sensitive to private and public cognitions and the amplifying effect of human emotions but also sensitive to cultural values as they can drive or shape behavior.”

Goig further:

For example, radar or sonar enable some degree of forecasting by tracking spatial and temporal patterns (e.g. they track and display how military objects or weather phenomena move in what clusters, in which direction(s) and at what speed.) A user can thus project where and when objects will be in the future. Similarly, a social radar should enable us to forecast who will cluster with whom in a network, where, and when in what kinds of relationships.

You can read the entire paper here

Of course, I’m sure it will filter out such information about U.S. citizens, and will only act on it in dire circumstances of national security. That dad gum Constitution and all..

We can only hope that the rest of the info is only available the altruistic likes of Finch and Reese…


About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."

Posted on January 19, 2012, in innovation, Philosophistry. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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