How DARPA Plans to Catch the Next Arizona Shooter–Before He Strikes
As DARPA puts it: “When we look through the evidence after the fact, we often find a trail–sometimes even an ‘obvious’ one. The question is can we pick up the trail before the fact giving us time to intervene and prevent an incident?” Computer forensics companies rise to the challenge.
If it sounds like something out of science fiction, that’s because it is. But the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has in a mind a program that would suss out criminals before they do the deed. A few months ago, DARPA announced its interest in what it’s calling “Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales,” or ADAMS, for short. Published in October, the document clearly had in mind people like the alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan or alleged Wiki-leaker Pfc. Bradley Manning; as DARPA put it: “Each time we see an incident like a soldier in good mental health becoming homicidal or suicidal or an innocent insider becoming malicious we wonder why we didn’t see it coming.”
In this age, we all leave considerable digital traces of our thoughts, actions, and motions. In the wake of a tragedy, often we are able to discern a pattern in the data, signs that someone who may have seemed harmless was actually about to do great harm. As DARPA writes, “When we look through the evidence after the fact, we often find a trail–sometimes even an ‘obvious’ one. The question is can we pick up the trail before the fact giving us time to intervene and prevent an incident? Why is that so hard? Because we generally need to look through an enormous amount of data and don’t know where to look or what to look for. In particular, we generally don’t have a good understanding of normal versus anomalous behaviors and how these manifest themselves in the data.”
In other words, hindsight is 20/20. But what if we could make foresight 20/20 as well?