Finally, after many years of the Department of Homeland Security messing around with Philip K. Dick, the U.S. army deciding that social scientists and anthropologists were the way forward in war, DARPA funding research to deal with the insane amounts of information produced by today’s UAVs, the USAF has decided to one up them all in the improbable research stakes. Ladies and gentlemen: the social radar.
Danger Room’s quote from the chap in charge: “And the comparison to traditional sensors is no accident… we also want to see into the hearts and the minds of people”
Diplomatic hat tip to Noah Shachtman for managing to wedge the ‘almost’ into “It sounds almost laughably ambitious”.
Let’s think of this one for a second, from perhaps a non-military perspective. What type of data are they after? Well, the same type of data that social scientists, anthropologists, economists and so on are after: what goes on inside a person’s head. How close have all the above come in the past couple of hundred years (allowing for the fact that those disciplines didn’t even exist in their current form over this time frame)? In some cases close, in a great many cases, not even near. The point being that academics can go away, figure out why they haven’t gotten close and go back for another go, so ‘failure’ isn’t necessarily a downer. So let’s sit and chew on that one: if the vast body of academia can’t do what the military wants, what good is the military leveraging computers and twitter feeds going to do?
For the record, I think it is a great and totally non-Orwellian thing that the military is going to work on “Metropolitan Area Persistent Sensing” because it’s not like the military’s new toys get deployed in domestic situations.
As an addendum, here’s two coup scenarios for you: Military A gets annoyed with democratic government and launches a coup with all its fancy new guns and bombs. Military B does the same, but has spent a couple of decades openly developing the tools of mass social surveillance, targeting and control. Which do you think would be more successful? More importantly, and perhaps a question that someone, somewhere within the US DoD should be asking: Which prospect is more likely to strike fear into the hearts of liberal citizens in a democratic state?
I think the US military’s professionalism means that it wouldn’t feature in either scenario, but hopefully they’ve learnt from the past decade that it doesn’t matter what you think, it’s what the “other guy” thinks that is important.