Predict the Future by Getting Into People's Minds
Can we get into a person's mind and predict the future based
on their intentions? That's what a new government program hopes
to do. Specifically they want to determine criminal intent in
order to stop crimes and acts of terror before they happen.
From a recent article in Discover Magazine;
This past summer, at an undisclosed location in a northeastern
metropolis, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was
trying to predict the future. There were no psychics or crystal
balls, just a battery of sensors designed to determine human
intention through the subtlest of changes in heart rate, gaze,
and other physiological markers.
They call it Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST,
and $20 million will be spent to develop it. If it works as promised,
screeners at airports will be able to determine hostile intent
in travelers, presumably making it possible to identify a terrorist
before he or she strikes. Naturally, there are concerns about
"false positives." It is likely that innocent people
will be wrongly identified as potential criminals.
The Department of Homeland Security already has about 3,000
officers who watch for suspicious behavior and monitor facial
expressions. They use a system called, "Screening of Passengers
by Observational Techniques" (SPOT). The new FAST system
is meant to supplement this, not replace it. It would identify
passengers who might need additional screening or observation
by human operators.
But can this new system really predict the future behavior
of criminals and terrorists? According to the article in Discover;
DHSs faith in the technology is based on the controversial
theory of malintent, developed in 2007 by clinical psychologist
and FAST research consultant Daniel Martin. By combining ideas
from neuroscience, psychophysiology, psychology, and counterterrorism,
Martin concluded that the physiological signs of a future hostile
actor would increase with the severity of the impending act and
as the moment of the crime approaches. If so, a terrorist who
plans to blow up a plane in an hour should be easier to detect
than a man who plans to cheat on his wife during a business trip.
Martin also concluded that the physiological signs, such as heart
rate and skin temperature, would be too minute to manipulate,
eliminating the possibility that terrorists would outsmart the
system. The system analyzes responses that people have
little or no control over, he claims. And even if
someone can avoid detection on one sensor, it is unlikely he
can avoid detection on all.
So far, DHS has tested FAST on more than 2,000 subjects;
the results have been better than chance but not overwhelming.
The system correctly determined whether a person was going to
commit a malevolent act 78 percent of the time. FAST officials
have released some of their findings to peer review and have
repeatedly stated their intention to release more, but without
complete data in the public forum, some scientists have questioned
the feasibility of the program.
Predict the future by getting into people's minds through
physiological signs? It seems that there is something to the
idea, but this is also the basis for the standard polygraph machine,
and most scientists consider polygraph testing to be unreliable