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P.K. Dick, Prophet

According to a recent post on the blog SHORT SHARP SCIENCE, “precrime” isn’t just a fictional entity in the short story (and film) Minority Report, it’s quickly becoming a reality for the Homeland Security apparatus.

Last year, New Scientist revealed that the US Department of Homeland Security is developing a system designed to detect “hostile thoughts” in people walking through border posts, airports and public places. The DHS says recent tests prove it works.

Project Hostile Intent, as it was called, aimed to help security staff choose who to pull over for a gently probing interview – or more.

Commentators slated the idea that sensors could spot people up to no good from their pulse rate, breathing, skin temperature, or fleeting facial expressions. One likened it to the “pre-crime” units that predict criminal behaviour in the movie Minority Report.

This comparison actually doesn’t hold up at all – since this system uses computerized tools, instead of psychic weirdos, to root out the criminals. And when you really think about it, the whole plot of “Minority Report” was that the system was gamed by evil insiders to frame T. Cruise for a crime he wasn’t going to commit. But apparently everyone involved is as lazy as we are in drawing the comparison…

However, last week, the DHS science unit gave an update on the project, now dubbed the less-hostile-sounding Future Attribute Screening Technologies (FAST) programme. And, if DHS claims are to be believed, the research appears to be getting somewhere.

At an equestrian centre in Maryland, 140 paid volunteers walked through a pair of trailers kitted out with a battery of FAST sensors, including cameras, infrared heat sensors and an eyesafe laser radar, called a Bio-Lidar, that measures pulse and breathing rate from a distance.

Some subjects were told to act shifty, be evasive, deceptive and hostile. And many were detected. “We’re still very early on in this research, but it is looking very promising,” says DHS science spokesman John Verrico. “We are running at about 78% accuracy on mal-intent detection, and 80% on deception.”

Click these images for full size…

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About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

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