One of my courses this past semester was an introduction to the concept of discovery informatics. Recently, I wrote about one aspect of the discipline. Via WestHawk, here’s a post that provides another example of massive data collection, disciplined analysis of that data, and the provocative applications that result.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is working on a $1 billion biometric database, containing fingerprints, palm prints, digital face scans, and, in the future iris scans, scars, voice data, and records of peoples’ walking gaits.
After September 11, 2001, the military-technical task changed from precisely targeting a discrete object to finding a discrete person, hidden in either a teeming population or deep in the hinterland. This was traditional detective work. But ancient and highly disciplined codes of silence have long thwarted traditional detective work requiring human sources. Thus the urge for a technological solution, also a classic American impulse.
What are the components of this technical solution to finding someone? First, the person’s biometric characteristics, soon to be found in the FBI’s database. Second, continuous overhead observation, eventually to be provided by long-endurance drones, such as Global Hawk. Third, high-level computing power, now available in abundance. Finally, and still missing, extremely perceptive electro-optical sensors, to be mounted on the overhead drones.
We can be sure that engineers are working on the problem.
This is slightly scary. Applied to an external threat, like Al-Qaeda, or terrorism in general, this sounds like a good idea. Applied to domestic criminal activity, it seems to be an overly aggressive response to a not-quite quantified threat.
And besides, the FBI? They still can’t send each other e-mail, or access the internet. Why should we think that they can manage this project?