7 high-tech programs that want to pick your brain

From predicting the future to helping the FBI solve a murder mystery, your brain is wanted in these high-tech programs

With increasing frequency it seems agencies of the government are looking to tap into the public conscienceness to gather information on everything from how you surf the Web to how they can use information generated by you to predict the future. It's all a little creepy, really. Here we take a look at seven programs announced this year that in some cases really want to crawl into your brain to see what's happening in the world.

With increasing frequency it seems agencies of the government are looking to tap into the public consciousness to gather information on everything from how you surf the Web to how they can use information generated by you to predict the future. It's all a little creepy, really. Here we take a look at seven programs announced this year that in some cases really want to crawl into your brain to see what's happening in the world.

U.S. intelligence agency wants technology to predict the future from public events

Publicly available data that could be aggregated and used by intelligent systems to predict future events is out there, if you can harness the technology to utilize it. That's one of the driving ideas behind a program that the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) group will detail at a Proposer's Day conference in Washington, D.C., in August.

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The program, known as the Open Source Indicators (OSI), will aim to "develop methods for continuous, automated analysis of publicly available data in order to anticipate and/or detect societal disruptions, such as political crises, disease outbreaks, economic instability, resource shortages, and natural disasters," IARPA stated.

According to the agency: "Many significant societal events are preceded and/or followed by population-level changes in communication, consumption, and movement. Some of these changes may be indirectly observable from publicly available data, such as web search trends, blogs, microblogs, internet traffic, webcams, financial markets, and many others. Published research has found that many of these data sources are individually useful in the early detection of events such as disease outbreaks and macroeconomic trends. However, little research has examined the value of combinations of data from diverse sources."

NASA, DARPA looking for your input for futuristic space exploration dialogue

DARPA and NASA Ames Research Center are soliciting abstracts, papers, topics and members for discussion panels, to be part of the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium to be held in Orlando, Fla., from Sept. 30 through Oct. 2. "This won't just be another space technology conference -- we're hoping that ethicists, lawyers, science fiction writers, technologists and others, will participate in the dialog to make sure we're thinking about all the aspects of interstellar flight," said David Neyland, director of the Tactical Technology Office for DARPA in a statement. "This is a great opportunity for people with interesting ideas to be heard, which we believe will spur further thought, dreaming and innovation."

Apple of my eye? U.S. fancies a huge metaphor repository

Researchers with the IARPA want to build a repository of metaphors. You read that right. Not just American/English metaphors, mind you, but those of Iranian Farsi, Mexican Spanish and Russian speakers. Why metaphors? "Metaphors have been known since Aristotle as poetic or rhetorical devices that are unique, creative instances of language artistry (for example: The world is a stage; Time is money). Over the last 30 years, metaphors have been shown to be pervasive in everyday language and to reveal how people in a culture define and understand the world around them," IARPA said.

DARPA wants to know how stories influence human mind, actions

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 hosted a workshop earlier this year called "Stories, Neuroscience and Experimental Technologies (STORyNET): Analysis and Decomposition of Narratives in Security Contexts" to discuss the topic.

"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."

Building the Borg: U.S. intelligence agency wants to know how your overtaxed brain works

This one sounds like it comes right out of a science fiction writer's nightmare. A U.S. intelligence agency wants to develop applications based on the way the human brain makes sense of large amounts of haphazard, partial information. Recently Raytheon BBN Technologies was awarded $3 million by IARPA to explore new methods of modeling what it calls the brain's sense-making ability. The research could have commercial and military benefits, such as helping the intelligence community analyze fast-moving battlefield video, audio and text data quickly and accurately, IARPA stated.

DARPA program wants to corral zany social media into a science

Looking to rein in the sort of Wild West atmosphere that can surround social media outlets, military researchers at DARPA are offering $42 million in grants to develop what it calls a new science of social networks.

The general goal of DARPA's Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program is to develop a social networks science that will develop automated and semi-automated operator support tools and techniques for the systematic and methodical use of social media at data scale and in a timely fashion, DARPA stated.

From DARPA: "Events in social media space involve many‐to‐many interactions among numbers of people at a compressed scale of time that is unprecedented. Entirely new phenomena are emerging that require thinking about social interactions in a new way. The tools that we have today for awareness and defense in the social media space are heavily dependent on chance. We must eliminate our current reliance on a combination of luck and unsophisticated manual methods by using systematic automated and semi‐automated human operator support to detect, classify, measure, track and influence events in social media at data scale."

FBI wants public help solving encrypted notes from murder mystery

In March, the FBI sought the public's help in breaking the encrypted code found in two notes discovered on the body of a murdered man in 1999. The FBI says that officers in St. Louis, Mo., discovered the body of 41-year-old Ricky McCormick on June 30, 1999, in a field and the clues regarding the homicide were two encrypted notes found in the victim's pants pockets. The FBI says that despite extensive work by its Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) and the American Cryptogram Association, the meanings of those two coded notes remain a mystery and McCormick's murderer has never been found. One has to wonder though: If the FBI can't figure this out, who can?

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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