Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I know what you're thinking

My first thought was: I've seen this scenario in some cheesy Tom Cruise infected Sci-Fi movie. Apparently that thought occurred to the Nature.com editorial staff as well. The Department of Homeland Security it would seem, is testing a system to detect malicious thoughts. No really.

They call it Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) because that's what government departments do with their doings, lest clear speech shed clear light. They make up acronyms that disguise the tunnels they dig under the foundations of liberty, but I digress. The technology purports to identify individuals who are planning to blow things up or have "malintent" as they say in the dialect.

Like a more traditional polygraph, FAST measures heart rates, among other things. Heart rates respiration and perspiration go up, after all when you're nervous about the bomb in your shorts or wishing you could throttle some thick-skull TSA twit as he gives you grief over an aspirin in your pants pocket that shows up on a scanner and starts groping you for explosives as you put your hands over your head in abject submission. Hell I'm sure I'd set off all kinds of alarm bells right now just thinking of how I've so often been treated as a felon on his way into the penitentiary instead of a tired traveler trying to get home.

I have no idea about what else this electro-mechanical night club bouncer measures and I'm not sure it invades any privacy that hasn't already been taken away by the cowardly traitors who passed the "Patriot" Act. I'm too lazy and too unwilling to provoke myself into another Lewis Black style tantrum to read the " Privacy Impact Assessment" our bureaucratic brethren at DHS have given us. I'll leave that to you. Besides my loathing of people who seem to exist only for the purpose of inserting that fly-blown and putrid metaphor into every sentence, it was written, most revealingly, by someone any German speaker will recognize as the Devil himself: Hugo Teufel III, Chief Privacy offer at the DHS under George W. Bush.

Does it work any better than the Polygraph does at detecting the evasions of sociopaths? It would have to, since those tend to be the people we're looking to put on no-fly lists and of course we won't have the results interpreted by a seasoned professional, but rather someone who was promoted from K-Mart security officer last week.

No, it's the stuff of B movies or sarcastic Dr. Strangelove sequels or even Orwell novels, but perhaps we've lost the ability even to see what the politics of fear has done to us in our cringing, cowardly new century.


Baltazar said...

are there any reports on the scientific reasons for burning at the stake ?

Capt. Fogg said...

Not that I know of -- lots of barbecue sauce recipes though.

d nova said...

here's another one: "In contemporary research and clinical practice, Robert D. Hare's Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is the psycho-diagnostic tool most commonly used to assess psychopathy."

just heard of it on radio show "this american life." apparently in some states a high score can disqualify a parole applicant, even one otherwise evaluated as rehabilitated and not psychopathic, for instance one who exhibits empathy, which is missing in psychopaths.

o course it takes longer than FAST to administer, so it's not gonna get used in airports, but nobody who sees that score wants to take the chance of putting that guy on the streets, so it has real consequences in real people's lives.

Capt. Fogg said...

But testing a convicted criminal and testing the general public for evidence of anger isn't the same thing.

CLIFF said...

Maybe. But it means that when the "cowardly traitors" as you so aptly call them throw your nervously sweating body (a sign of malintent) into prioson, it insures that you will never, ever, ever get out to roam freely among the dik-diks and gazelle's formerly known as American citizens in the nation formerly known as the home of the brave.

Just sayin'

d nova said...

general public?

no way! general public don't fly!

n seriously, don't u think there's anything wrong with keeping a guy locked up long past when he starts to show real remorse/contrition?

(the guy in the story, incidentally, is in slammer bcuz he just happened to be there when his friend unexpectedly pulled his piece n shot a passerby. he was no angel. he was living a criminal life. but he hadn't actually been part of the murder.)

Capt. Fogg said...

On the occasions that I can't avoid airports, I'm always struck by the fact that even the crowd on the NY Subway seems more upscale, but sure, I think prisoners should be considered for parole on an individual basis and I have no objection to testing that might separate the con artists from the reformed. All I'm objecting to is wasting money on tests to detect thought crimes on the public. If they do it for airplanes, I think they'll do it for trains and entry to public buildings and on kids going to school.

On my way down to St Maartin in April I was given holy hell because there was an aspirin in my pocket after I'd been ORDERED to remove everything and I don't like the up against the wall rhetoric or having my wallet rummaged through and my balls groped for nothing. It would be worse if they could do that because some robot thought you had a guilty expression.

d nova said...

thanx. my point was the pcl-r fails to divide the psychopaths from the reformed because it's possible to score high even when the presence of empathy proves by definition that the prisoner is not psychopathic, yet that high score makes board members afraid to grant parole.

i entirely sympathize with your airport experience. haven't flown since reagan fired controllers [my personal boycott], but in '73 i flew el al. a polite, professional israeli methodically emptied and repacked my backpack and asked a handful of questions. no x-rays, no electronics, no groping. took no more than 10 minutes. el al hasn't had a successful hijacking since 1968. (btw, in my limited experience, polite israelis are at least as rare as polite new yorkers. they must train their screeners really well.)

Capt. Fogg said...

"polite israelis are at least as rare as polite new yorkers"

Methinks tis true. Laughing hard over that one. But yes, humans I think are better than machines at reading other humans. I don't know why we haven't figured that out.

and Cliff, I always cringe at that "home of the brave" bit too. We wallow in fear of every kind.

d nova said...

i think we used to know we're better than machines, but of course we kept making them better, which made us more confident about them and ironically less so about ourselves. then we came up with absurd concepts like artificial intelligence, which is ok as a metaphor or analogy perhaps, but it gets taken literally, tho machines cn't be intelligent. maybe what we need is to do more critical thinking or philosophy discussions or something to restore our faith in our reason and teach us to ask the right questions, plus we shd probably study strategy and art so we learn how to be alert and make accurate observations. that wd be a start anyway.

"we wallow in fear...." yeah. (cdn't've sd it better.) that's why i started phobizone.