Thought police? DARPA wants to know how stories influence human mind, actions

DARPA wants to know about how stories influence human behavior

Since it sounds like a not-so-basic- science fiction script, you won't be surprised  that the scientific masterminds at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are behind it. 

DARPA in a nutshell wants to know about how stories or narratives or whatever might like to call them influence human behavior.  To this end, DARPA is hosting a workshop called "Stories, Neuroscience and Experimental Technologies (STORyNET): Analysis and Decomposition of Narratives in Security Contexts," on Feb. 28th to discuss the topic. 

More cool news: The weirdest, wackiest and stupidest sci/tech stories of 2010 

"Stories exert a powerful influence on human thoughts and behavior. They consolidate memory, shape emotions, cue heuristics and biases in judgment, influence in-group/out-group distinctions, and may affect the fundamental contents of personal identity. It comes as no surprise that these influences make stories highly relevant to vexing security challenges such as radicalization, violent social mobilization, insurgency and terrorism, and conflict prevention and resolution. Therefore, understanding the role stories play in a security context is a matter of great import and some urgency," DARPA stated. "Ascertaining exactly what function stories enact, and by what mechanisms they do so, is a necessity if we are to effectively analyze the security phenomena shaped by stories. Doing this in a scientifically respectable manner requires a working theory of narratives, an understanding of what role narratives play in security contexts, and examination of how to best analyze stories-decomposing them and their psychological impact systematically."

According to DARPA, STORyNET has three goals:

1. To survey narrative theories. These empirically informed theories should tell us something about the nature of stories: what is a story? What are its moving parts? Is there a list of necessary and sufficient conditions it takes for a stimulus to be considered a story instead of something else? Does the structure and function of stories vary considerably across cultural contexts or is there a universal theory of story?

2. To better understand the role of narrative in security contexts. What role do stories play in influencing political violence and to what extent? What function do narratives serve in the process of political radicalization and how do they influence a person or group's choice of means (such as violence) to achieve political ends? How do stories influence bystanders' response to conflict? Is it possible to measure how attitudes salient to security issues are shaped by stories?

3. To survey the state of the art in narrative analysis and decomposition tools. How can we take stories and make them quantitatively analyzable in a rigorous, transparent and repeatable fashion? What analytic approaches or tools best establish a framework for the scientific study of the psychological and neurobiological impact of stories on people? Are particular approaches or tools better than others for understanding how stories propagate in a system so as to influence behavior?

Whether or not STORyNET goes beyond deep discussions at a workshop remains to be seen, but DARPA is certainly interested in developing such thought machines.  In 2008 it said it wanted to build avant-garde artificial intelligence (AI) software known as a Machine Reading Program (MRP) that can capture knowledge from naturally occurring text and transform it into the formal representations used by AI reasoning systems.

For example, all of the text in the World Wide Web will become available for automating the monitoring and analysis of technological and political activities of nations; plans, rhetoric, and activities of transnational organizations; and scientific discovery within various disciplines, DARPA stated. As digitized text from library books becomes available, new avenues of cultural awareness and historical research will be enabled. With truly general techniques for effectively handling the incompatibilities between natural language and the language of formal inference, a system could, in principal, be constructed that maps between natural and formal languages in any subject domain, DARPA said.

DARP also has its Cyber Genome Program it hopes will develop technologies that will help law enforcement types collect, analyze and identify all manner of digital artifacts.

The objective of the four-year program is to produce revolutionary cyber defense and investigatory technologies for the collection, identification, characterization, and presentation of properties and relationships from software, data, and/or users to support law enforcement, counter intelligence, and cyber defense teams, DARPA stated. Such digital artifacts may be collected from computers, personal digital assistants, and/or distributed information systems such as cloud computers, from wired or wireless networks, or collected storage media.  The format may include electronic documents or software to include malware, DARPA stated.

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