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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

When lying is outlawed only politicians will lie

According the Washington Post, 44 percent of Americans think lawmakers are more dishonest than are average Americans. I bring this up not to dwell on whether American national politics is the corrupt domain of liars and manipulators (it is). Nor to gasp in astonishment that the Post managed to frame their questions in such a way that 52 percent of Americans view themselves as so dishonest that politicians in Congress compare favorably. I bring it up because the state and capitalism, the regulatory domain of the Washington political class, have opened up new vistas in what we might call "honesty enforcement," quite ironic however you view the poll numbers.

Wired Magazine reported this week on advancements in the field of functional magnetic resonance imaging: "fMRI for short - enables researchers to create maps of the brain's networks in action as they process thoughts, sensations, memories, and motor commands." Up until now, fMRI has been used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease and other brain disorders. But, according to Steve Silberman's article,
[n]ow fMRI is also poised to transform the security industry, the judicial system, and our fundamental notions of privacy. I'm in a lab at Columbia University, where scientists are using the technology to analyze the cognitive differences between truth and lies. By mapping the neural circuits behind deception, researchers are turning fMRI into a new kind of lie detector that's more probing and accurate than the polygraph, the standard lie-detection tool employed by law enforcement and intelligence agencies for nearly a century.
Since polygraphs are notoriously unreliable (several notable spies and crooks have passed them), authorities and their scientist accomplices are likely drooling over new advances in the field. After all, wouldn't controlling the poor and working class become so much more efficient if a reliable lie detection system existed?

And, so, perhaps that explains the recent call by the Department of Defense for development of
a lie detector that can be used without the subject knowing they are being assessed. The Remote Personnel Assessment (RPA) device will also be used to pinpoint fighters hiding in a combat zone, or even to spot signs of stress that might mark someone out as a terrorist or suicide bomber.

In a call for proposals on a DoD website, contractors are being given until 13 January to suggest ways to develop the RPA, which will use microwave or laser beams reflected off a subject's skin to assess various physiological parameters without the need for wires or skin contacts. The device will train a beam on "moving and non-cooperative subjects", the DoD proposal says, and use the reflected signal to calculate their pulse, respiration rate and changes in electrical conductance, known as the "galvanic skin response". "Active combatants will in general have heart, respiratory and galvanic skin responses that are outside the norm," the website says.

Because these parameters are the same as those assessed by a polygraph lie detector, the DoD claims the RPA will also indicate the subject's psychological state: if they are agitated or stressed because they are lying, for example. So it will be used as a "remote or concealed lie detector during prisoner interrogation".
But, then, you didn't have anything to hide, did you? So you have no objection to being forced to be honest all the time, do you?

Of course, the obvious joke is that we all know that politicians, capitalists, high level bureaucrats - generally anyone with real power - will never have to sit for one of those humiliating lie detection sessions. And even if they did, likely all it would reveal is that they really do believe in the system. After all, it does benefit them, so why not? The crimes of the rich have long since been legalized.

In fact, some critics of the DoD technology worry that lie detection at a distance won't work.
"There is no way a polygraph test can be carried out usefully without the subject knowing, because you actually want the person to worry about certain questions," says Bruce Burgess, an examiner with polygraph firm Distress Services of Leatherhead, Surrey, UK.
But the military and police would like very much to develop technologies that reveal lying - and even intent. The military in particular is pressing forward with new technologies for detection of terrorist tendencies. A National Defense Magazine article on efforts to defeat insurgent IED's in Iraq recently reported:
The human element of the IED problem is being addressed, according to Starnes Walker, Office of Naval Research chief scientist. Social and behavioral scientists are part of a holistic approach, he said in a statement. “I'd like to be able to pick the terrorist out. I'd like a detector ‘tricorder' for intent or evil. I'd like to know ahead of time that this person is planning to hurt other people with the use of IEDs.”
That plea is being answered by physical and social scientists across the country. It's unknown how researchers plan to filter out American soldiers participating in genocide or imperialist projects abroad from their scans. The problem of any evil- or terrorist-detection alarm system sounding constantly in the hands of US forces seems an inevitable one, thus making an Aliens, "they're in the room!" scenario ridiculously likely. Nevertheless, researchers forge ahead, and Amy Ellis Nutt reports on some of it in her article, "What Makes a Terrorist? Science Is Finding Out".

Researchers want to get into the head of the terrorist and eventually hope to ferret out extremists (as they define them) before they act.

The Department of Homeland Security and other agencies are funding development of "noninvasive neurologic sensors" and airline passenger screening technologies.
In August, Rutgers University's Center for Computational Biomedicine, Imaging and Modeling, along with scientists at Lockheed Martin, received $3.5 million from the Department of Homeland Security to develop a new kind of lie detector.
Dimitris Metaxas, director of the Rutgers center, aims to develop a camera-assisted computer program that can analyze a person's subtle nonverbal cues and correlate them with an intention to deceive. The technique could be used at border crossings, as well as at high-security locations.

Peter Rosenfeld, principal member of the engineering staff at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Laboratories in Cherry Hill, N.J., is working on the visual component.

"What we want is a kind of scanner that can take a 3-D image of the head -- and by applying a virtual mask to the person's face, we can read his eyebrow positions, the lines in his face, his eye movements. They can be correlated to a person's psychological state. Basically, it's a simple portable device to quickly see if a person is lying."
Another device, the "cogsensor", backed up by funding from the federal government, has been showing some promising results. 92-year-old bioengineer Britton Chance from the University of Pennsylvania claims to have made significant breakthroughs in the science of lie detection.
"It's not the emotional stress of having made a decision (what a conventional lie detector measures), but about what goes on in the decision making," he said. "We detect signals in the forebrain right before a decision is made. Because we are not fully in control of our own brain, it would tell me this person is having trouble deciding to tell the truth."
Chance admits that there may be some ethical or legal problems to the technology, but in true scientific fashion, he forges ahead undeterred and, it seems, unconcerned. That's for elites to figure out.

Social sciences, such as "social network analysis -- a combination of mathematics, computer science and anthropology used mainly to examine business efficiency" -- and dynamic network analysis have become increasingly important tools in the government's fight against it's cell-based enemy.

Both sciences gather information to map relationships within terrorist cells and social movements, generally from the bottom up.
The promise of dynamic network analysis lies in its ability to identify emerging threats, which is why [Kathleen] Carley, director of the Center for Computational Analysis of Social and Organizational Systems at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, constantly runs network scenarios through her computer.

...Carley begins each analysis by collecting data from publicly available sources. She uses a text-mining tool called "Auto Map," which looks through newspapers, documents and Web pages (100,000 a day) to identify relationships.

Then she runs a series of virtual experiments where she removes each identified member, one by one, and watches what the computer "learns" about how the network will react.

"We collect data on real-world groups. We set up beginning conditions -- who is talking to who and at what time. Then we set up `what-if' scenarios."
She continues, "DNA (dynamic network analysis) can't predict specific actions, but it can tell who is getting stronger. The ability to use these tools for forecasting about terror has happened just now, this year..."

Data mining from publicly available databases has become increasingly easy to do in a world in which many people freely post information about their relationships, hobbies and associations on the internet. Early in the week, Applefritter.com posted an article ("Data Mining 101: Finding Subversives with Amazon Wishlists") detailing how "an individual with access to the internet can still develop a fairly sophisticated profile of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens using free and publicly available resources."
Amazon wishlists lets anyone bookmark books for later purchase. By default these lists are public and available to anybody who searches by name. If the wishlist creator specifies a shipping address, someone else can even purchase the book on Amazon and have it shipped directly as a gift. The wishlist creator's city and state are made public on the wishlist, but the street address remains private. Amazon's popularity has created a vast database of wishlists. No index of all wishlists is available, but it remains possible to view all wishlists by people of a particular first name. A recent search for people named Mark returned 124,887 publicly viewable wishlists.
Cross-reference these public wishlists, searchable by name, with the city and state, punch it into Googlemaps and, there you have it! Your very own subversive map! For more specificity, run the names through Yahoo People Search and you can probably get it down to house level. Oops! That wasn't your house, was it?

Mirroring a plan in the UK for tracking all vehicles, the federal government has increased funding for what is sometimes called "pay as you go" driving. Essentially, the system would require a GPS system in every vehicle to keep track of the distance traveled, and a tax would be assessed based on how far you go. Aside from being a regressive tax (many working class and poor folks have been forced through rising housing costs to live far from their place of work), the technology raises all kinds of obvious Big Brother-related questions, which despite the general lack of public outcry, are quite obvious.

There are different methods of tracking mileage. Some plans utilize constant GPS tracking by the DMV while others save the information and transmit it later at certain wireless hot spots, like gas stations. In Britain, regional trials of a vehicle tracking system boosted arrests per officer tenfold from 10 to 100, and convictions rose as well. Certainly that workload will only justify more cops and bureaucrats.

Civil libertarians in the UK are justifiably concerned:
"The freedom and anonymity of the open road is something that is culturally important here," says Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. "Now like some scene in '1984,' the fact that we will travel and be detected and analyzed changes the whole psyche of the nation."
But police counter with some hard to argue with logic:
"Criminals use cars, it's as simple as that," says John Dean, a retired officer who is coordinating the rollout of the automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) program.
The British system utilizes thousands of surveillance cameras equipped with license place reading technology and Britain's already widespread CCTV system. Cameras scan the plates, run the information through a central database and then let the cops know about any potential criminals or problems that pop up. Boosters hope the system will scan 50 million cars a day.

Perhaps most disturbing, however, the system will store information about vehicles and travel for two years or possibly more.
Even if an immediate arrest is not possible, the data will help the authorities build up an intelligence picture of the movements of suspicious vehicles and analyze journeys that drivers have made over several years. The intelligence service MI5 will also use the database, according to Frank Whiteley, a senior police officer.
Future revolutionaries would do well to remember how critical stolen cars have been to anti-state activities, dating back at least as far as the anarchist Bonnot Gang's transformation of the car into a getaway vehicle for their expropriatory bank robberies.

Here in the US, booming federal research dollars, increasingly military oriented, continue to fuel technological development. Modern technology requires massive funding and guaranteed markets, and the state serves both as paymaster and buyer of first and last resort. It's only after markets are made safe that technologies are generally handed off for profit to corporations.

Or, as Sam Rankin, associate executive director of the American Mathematical Society and chairman of the Coalition for National Science Funding euphemistically puts it, "A lot of innovation comes from basic research, and it takes a number of years for that basic work to transform itself into innovations."
Federal research and development spending will rise $2.2 billion, or 1.7 percent, in 2006, to about $135 billion, according to an analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Of that increase, 97 percent will go to Department of Defense weapons development and National Aeronautics and Space Administration spacecraft programs, AAAS said.
Many scientists, used to their cozy relationship with the government, are worried about the lack of across the board growth this year.
"For 2006, for most areas, it's looking pretty bad. The total is going to be a new record, but it's going to be big increases in two areas," Koizumi said. "Obviously, those are big priorities but in an overall budget in which Congress and the president are trying to cut domestic spending, all other R&D programs are flat at best and falling in most cases."
Highlighting their dependent role (although one they are largely uncritical of) as idea factories for the capitalists, bureaucrats and militarists,
[t]he nation's universities and research institutes fret the emphasis increasingly falls on development, which tends to help industry, instead of the experimentation and exploration associated with basic research.

Research spending is falling or stagnating, disproportionately hurting the colleges and universities that depend on federal support to run their electrical engineering, computer science and other departments, said Tobin Smith, senior federal relations officer for the Association of American Universities.
Where would technological research be without the state? A recent article from the New Scientist gives us a clue. The myth of capital driven innovation is revealed as the article points out how few nanotech investment dollars are coming from venture capitalists.
"[V]enture capital still remains a drop in the bucket of total nanotech investment," said Matthew Nordan, vice president of research at nanotechnology analyst firm Lux Research in New York. "The reason is that the success of nanotech venture investing is still too early to call."
Early stage venture capitalism "in general deals with a world of uncertainty as opposed to a world of risk. Risk you can quantify, uncertainty you can't," said Charles Harris, chairman of the board and Chief Executive Officer of venture capital firm Harris & Harris Group in New York. Since early stage venture capitalism often sees a very few large winners among startups that make up for all the ones that lose money, any large winner that appears "will have an awful lot of effect on what money people want to invest."
In other words, the state will guarantee the market with public dollars, and the capitalists will profit once it's safe.

Just like with the rise of automation, electronics and early computers in the 40's and 50's, the new heavily-subsidized technologies find their primary application as an elite tool for their class war at home and imperialism abroad, to control, manage and disempower people for the elite's own narrow benefit. However, whereas the previous era's "progress" aimed at the substitution of capital for labor in a drive towards what engineers called the "push button factory," in which workers were either replaced or deskilled to the point of powerlessness on the job, today's developments seem much more directly targeted at control, quantification, management, deterrence and punishment.

Will there be a point from which we cannot return? If so when will that be?


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