Predicting “Future Crime?”

In the popular television show, Person of Interest, a mysterious billionaire named Mr. Finch uses a secret computer program to identify people connected to “future crimes.” While Mr. Finch uses the program to save lives, it’s easy to imagine such a thing being used for evil (see: Minority Report). Fortunately, this frightening technology doesn’t exist in real life…does it?

FAST: Future Attribute Screening Technology…or Future Crime Technology?

In 2008, news began to leak out that the Department of Homeland Security was working on a program named Project Hostile Intent (now called FAST, or Future Attribute Screening Technology). Its purpose was to detect “‘mal-intent’ by screening people for ‘psychological and physiological indicators’ in a ‘Mobile Screening Laboratory.'”

Recently, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) obtained an internal document from the Department of Homeland Security. It revealed that FAST is not just a piece of hypothetical technology. Future crime technology is real. And its being tested on real people, albeit voluntarily.

The concept behind FAST is fairly simple. Government agents will use “video images, audio recordings, cardiovascular signals, pheromones, electrodermal activity, and respiratory measurements” to examine individuals from afar. Advanced algorithms will then analyze this information. This will supposedly allow agents to “predict” future criminal behavior and give them a “head start to stop a crime or violent act in progress.”

Future Crime versus Criminal Profiling?

Technologies to predict the future seem to be all the rage in government agencies these days. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is developing a program to detect traitorous insiders who plan to turn on their colleagues. Meanwhile, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) is working on technology to predict future global events and the “consequences of U.S. intelligence actions.”

Still, the government’s desire to predict the future isn’t new. After all, FAST is, in certain respects, just a more advanced version of the common yet controversial practice of “criminal profiling.” But while profiling usually focuses on just one or two factors, such as ethnicity or gender, FAST goes to a whole other level. It examines ethnicity, gender, age, occupation, breathing patterns, body movements, eye movements, changes in pitch, changes in speech, changes in body heat, and changes in heart rate among other things.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, it would appear that the government is laying the groundwork for a system to predict crime. Fortunately, it’s only confined to employees of the Department of Homeland Security at the moment. Right?

Wrong. It turns out that FAST “has already been tested in at least one undisclosed location in the northeast.” While the nature of this location remains unknown, the DHS claims it wasn’t an airport.

EPIC is concerned about the privacy implications and believes that FAST needs to be reviewed. And it’s hard to argue with them. The privacy concerns are mind-boggling to say the least, especially since the government plans to “retain information” that it collects. In addition, the idea of being spied upon, profiled, singled out, and questioned by government agents for a crime not yet committed is disturbing to say the least. The potential for abuse is alarming and real…Very, very real.

A Cloak…of Invisibility?

Earlier this month, BAE Systems announced a revolutionary technology that could change the face of war…forever. Did the company’s scientists really figure out the secret to making an invisibility cloak?

A Real-Life Invisibility Cloak?

On September 5, BAE issued a remarkable press release entitled, BAE Systems Conjures up Invisibility Cloak. It declared that it had developed an “invisibility cloak” which would allow a vehicle to “blend into its surroundings.” In essence, the cloak is a series of sheets placed on the vehicle which have the ability to change temperature at a rapid clip. When used properly, they can literally make a tank or other vehicle invisible in the infra-red spectrum.

“Known as ‘Adaptiv’, the patented technology is based on sheets of hexagonal ‘pixels’ that can change temperature very rapidly. On-board cameras pick up the background scenery and display that infra-red image on the vehicle, allowing even a moving tank to match its surroundings. Alternatively, it can mimic another vehicle or display identification tags, reducing the risk of fratricide.”

Pretty amazing. At this time, the technology is only useful in the infra-red spectrum. However, this will undoubtedly change over the coming years.

“BAE Systems engineers have combined the pixels with other technologies, which provide camouflage in other parts of the electro-magnetic spectrum at the same time to provide all-round stealth, which will be developed further over the next few years.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Here’s a video of the invisibility cloak in action. If you’re pressed for time, start at 0:49 and wait 3 seconds.

Now you see it. Now you don’t.

A Machine that can Read Minds?

Oneirology is the scientific study of dreams. It’s widely considered a protoscience, or a promising field of study that has yet to be firmly established. New research could change all that though. In fact, it could change a lot of things. What if technology existed that could read dreams? What if these “natural movies” could read entire minds?

What are Natural Movies?

Scientists at UC Berkeley recently created a computer program that can “translate brain wave patterns into a moving image.” They call these images “Natural Movies.”

In order to get these Natural Movies, subjects watched hours of Youtube videos inside a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. In the process, the MRI recorded the ways in which the subjects’ brains processed the visual imagery. The research team used this information to develop a computer program “that matched features of the videos – like colors, shapes, and movements – with patterns of brain activity.”

Afterward, the program was tested in reverse. The team “fed the computer 18 million one-second YouTube clips that the participants had never seen.” The program then attempted to reconstruct the clips using other YouTube scenes as well as the information provided by the subjects’ brain activity. This video shows some of these results. The movie on the left is a series of Youtube clips. The movie on the right is the reconstructed Natural Movie. The Natural Movie is blurry because it layers “all the YouTube clips that matched the subject’s brain activity pattern.”

“This is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds.” ~ Jack Gallant, Professor of Psychology

The Future of Natural Movies?

Of course, this research is in its infancy. The UC Berkeley study only measured a small amount of total brain activity. More models will be needed to encompass the entire visual system and more computers will be required to analyze the data. And ultimately, our ability to record and watch inner imagery like dreams, memories, or thoughts will depend on “how close those abstract visual experiences are to the real thing.” Still, it looks promising.

“If you can decode movies people saw, you might be able to decode things in the brain that are movie-like but have no real-world analog, like dreams.” ~ Jack Gallant

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

This research is straight out of a science fiction novel and could end up having enormous ramifications on life as we know it. Natural movies could enable paralyzed individuals to communicate movements through visual thoughts, allowing machines to make those movements a reality. The Pensieve from the Harry Potter series, which enabled one to store and recall memories, could become a reality.

Unfortunately, natural movies could also become a nightmare. It might be used in harmful ways we can’t even begin to imagine. Even the researchers themselves seem a bit nervous about the whole thing.

“It is possible that decoding brain activity could have serious ethical and privacy implications downstream in, say, the 30-year time frame. As an analogy, consider the current debates regarding availability of genetic information. Genetic sequencing is becoming cheaper by the year, and it will soon be possible for everyone to have their own genome sequenced. This raises many issues regarding privacy and the accessibility of individual genetic information. The authors believe strongly that no one should be subjected to any form of brain-reading process involuntarily, covertly, or without complete informed consent. ~ Shinji Nishimoto, An T. Vu, Thomas Naselaris, Yuval Benjamini, Bin Yu & Jack L. Gallant: Reconstructing Visual Experiences from Brain Activity Evoked by Natural Movies

Will this research benefit mankind? Or will it lead to a future straight out of Minority Report? Only time will tell.

Inorganic Life?

Life as we know it derives from organic compounds. Or does it? Can inorganic life exist?

Inorganic Life?

Carbon is the basis for all organic compounds and thus, all life on earth. Compounds that lack carbon are considered inorganic and thus, inanimate. However, for many years scientists have speculated on the possibility of unknown lifeforms, some of which might not be organic in nature.

Recently, a team led by Professor Lee Cronin at Glasgow University demonstrated a new methodology designed to “create life from inorganic chemicals.” In other words, metal-based life.

“What we are trying do is create self-replicating, evolving, inorganic cells that would essentially be alive. You could call it inorganic biology.” ~ Professor Lee Cronin

How do you Create Inorganic Life?

The process, as reported by New Scientist, revolves around developing a self-assembling cell-like sphere.

“Cronin and his team begin by creating salts from negatively charged ions of the large metal oxides bound to a small positively charged ion such as hydrogen or sodium. A solution of this salt is squirted into another salt solution made of large, positively charged organic ions bound to small negative ones.”

“When the two salts meet, they swap parts and the large metal oxides end up partnered with the large organic ions. The new salt is insoluble in water: it precipitates as a shell around the injected solution.”

These shells are called iCHELLs. Cronin has managed to create internal membranes within the iCHELLs, allowing materials and energy to flow through them in ways that are similar to those used by organic cells. But he doesn’t intend to stop there.

“I am 100 per cent positive that we can get evolution to work outside organic biology.” ~ Professor Lee Cronin

Cronin wants to create “fully inorganic self-replicating entities.” In other words, inorganic life. This is no easy task and many scientists are skeptical, pointing out that the iCHELLs will never be “alive” without DNA or something similar which could enable self-replication and evolution.

Currently, he’s subjecting the iCHELLs to tubes filled with chemicals at different pH levels. The goal is to ascertain whether or not the cells can self-modify in order to adapt to different environments. While he hasn’t prepared a formal statement yet, early results appear promising.

“I think we have just shown the first droplets that can evolve.” ~ Professor Lee Cronin

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

If successful, Cronin’s work could eventually be used “in all sorts of applications in medicine, as sensors or to confine chemical reactions.” Also, it would help us to search for new types of life on this planet…and elsewhere.

“There is every possibility that there are life forms out there which aren’t based on carbon. On Mercury, the materials are all different. There might be a creature made of inorganic elements.” ~ Tadashi Sugawara, University of Tokyo, Japan

Civil War Flying Machines?

During the Civil War, the Confederate States of America invented and deployed a number of secret weapons against Union forces. They created the the first steam-powered ironclad warship and built the H.L. Hunley, the first combat submarine to successfully sink an enemy vessel. But the strangest secret weapon of all was the one they didn’t create…just how close did the Confederacy come to building its own Air Force?

Civil War Planes?

On Dec. 17, 1903, the Wright brothers made what is often considered “the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight.” It wasn’t until the Italo-Turkish War in 1911 that aircraft were first used for military purposes. However, if one man had his way, both those achievements would’ve been reached decades earlier.

In 1863, R. Finley Hunt was a dentist by trade. But he exhibited an unusual “passion for flight.” During the Civil War, both sides used balloons to perform aerial reconnaissance. Hunt envisioned something more dramatic…nothing less than full-blown “Flying Machines” raining terror down on Union forces.

Hunt prepared “pencil drawings of wings, propellers, and a multi-cylinder steam engine” and contacted CSA President Jefferson Davis. But Confederate engineers doubted the feasibility of the project, especially the ability of a steam engine to keep the plane aloft. They also described another error as “so obvious on reflection that no discussion is required.” As far as I’ve been able to determine, the nature of this error remains unknown.

Hunt continued to seek an audience and even requested the temporary assistance of one N. Hays, who was apparently an accomplished armory machinist. However, Hays was too valuable to be spared and ultimately, the Confederacy passed on the project.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Hunt’s plans recently surfaced at a rare book dealer’s shop. They are being auctioned by RR Auction with a minimum bid of $1,000. Here’s the preview page for “Civil War Airplanes.”

After the war, Hunt traveled to Washington D.C. and received a patent for his invention. He proceeded to build a few working models of his Flying Machine. However, he was short on financing and his creation never got off the ground, so to speak.

“It’s incredible for someone who loves early aviation, because it poses the great question of ‘What if? What if planes had appeared above the wilderness when [Union general Ulysses S.] Grant began his campaign in the Shenandoah Valley?” ~ Bobby Livingston, RR Auction, Vice President of Sales and Marketing

I hope that whoever buys this piece of history uses the plans to reconstruct the Flying Machine. For all we know, Hunt was far ahead of his time. If it had worked and had been put into production, the Civil War might’ve ended in a far different manner than it did.

The Cryonics Man?

On January 12, 1967, Dr. James Bedford passed away. A few hours later, he became the first person in history to have his body frozen with intent of future resuscitation. So, where is the Cryonics Man today?

The Strange Science of Cryonics?

Cryonics is the science of freezing a deceased subject in the hopes of reviving that same subject in the future. The idea is to keep the subject in a state of preservation until technology advancements allow for resuscitation as well as a cure for whatever killed the subject in the first place. While cryonics procedures currently take place after death, suspended animation, similar to the phenomenon of human hibernation, may someday be possible. Regardless, cryonics supporters believe that they can ultimately cheat death.

Cryonics is a very new and somewhat controversial science. Most historians trace it to Robert Ettinger’s 1962 book, The Prospect of Immortality. While Ettinger was probably more influential, Evan Cooper deserves much credit for his work, Immortality: Physically, Scientifically, Now, as well as for his founding of the Life Extension Society.

The First Cryonics Patient?

In June 1965, the Life Extension Society announced a strange promotion that took the world by storm. It offered to cryopreserve a single subject, free of charge. At the time, Dr. James Bedford was a psychology professor at the University of California. He suffered from a terminal case of kidney cancer. He submitted an application and was subsequently selected as the promotion winner. Eighteen months later, on January 12, 1967, Dr. Bedford died. A few hours later, his body was frozen by Robert Prehoda, Dr. Dante Brunol, and Robert Nelson. That day, Dr. Bedford became the first cryonics patient in history.

The Cryonics Man created much excitement and Robert Nelson’s organization, the Cryonics Society of California (CSC), began taking on additional patients. This lasted until 1979. In what would become known as the Chatsworth Disaster, nine cryonics patients maintained by the CSC were discovered to have thawed due to a lack of funds. Understandably, the growth of the cryonics industry slowed in the aftermath. But what happened to Robert Nelson’s first patient, Dr. James Bedford? Was he thawed at Chatsworth?

Where is the Cryonics Man today?

Fortunately, Dr. Bedford had been transferred to a separate facility just six days after being frozen. Thus, his body escaped the Chatsworth Disaster. Since his death, he has been on quite the journey. He spent two years at the Cryo-Care facility in Arizona, four years at the Galiso facility in California, four years at Trans Time, and five years being kept privately by his son. In 1982, he was moved to his current residence at Alcor Life Extension Foundation. Dr. Bedford remains the only person frozen prior to 1973 that remains frozen today.

Cryonics is often viewed as a LIFO science. In other words, “Last In, First Out.” Preservation technologies should continue to improve, making future patients easier to revive. It will take additional scientific advancements to revive earlier subjects who were preserved with more primitive techniques. This is undoubtedly the case for Dr. Bedford. His brain was injected with DMSO rather than the anti-freeze products used today. Thus, it probably wasn’t well-protected from ice formation. Still, a 1991 report prepared by Alcor states that “it seems likely that his external temperature has remained at relatively low subzero temperatures throughout the storage interval.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Despite the promise of cryonics, it is not widely used today, thanks to the large expense required to maintain care. In order to avoid another Chatsworth, cryonics companies require full payment for all future storage costs, which could range for decades or even centuries. Alcor charges as much as $200,000 for whole body cryopreservation. Head and brain preservation only is still pretty steep at $80,000. It should be noted that life insurance is an option to spread out the cost over time.

Due in part to the steep cost, there are only some 200 human cryonic subjects today, with 106 and 103 maintained by the Alcor Life Extension Foundation and the Cryonics Institute, respectively. KrioRus, located in Russia, maintains 17 human subjects while Trans Time hosts 3 subjects. However, I expect these numbers to rise dramatically in the future as more and more people seek out extended lifespans. Centuries from now, those who seek out cryonics treatment may someday reawaken, a second chance of life at their fingertips. And when they do, they’ll have one man to thank for leading the way…the Cryonics Man, Dr. James Bedford.