Doug Bedell — October 8, 2009, 3:58 pm

Will Machines Replace Alert Guards?

Bruce  Schneier, ever on the frontier of security issues, comments on pending technology that’s aimed at identifying potential evil-doers at checkpoints by monitoring eyeblinks, heart rate or even fidgeting. Schneier isn’t that impressed by the technology – called “Future Attribute Screening Technology” – being developed  by Draper Laboratory and its collaborators with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Reports Schneier: “I’m dubious.

“At a demonstration of the technology this week, project manager Robert P. Burns said the idea is to track a set of involuntary physiological reactions that might slip by a human observer. These occur when a person harbors malicious intent – but not when someone is late for a flight or annoyed by something else, he said, citing years of research into the psychology of deception.

“The development team is investigating how effective its techniques are at flagging only people who intend to do harm. Even if it works, the technology raises a slew of questions – from privacy concerns, to the more fundamental issue of whether machines are up to a task now entrusted to humans.”

Schneier cites Paul Eckman, an expert on facial actions, for his qualms over the pending technology:

Says Eckman, who directs a company that trains government workers, including for the Transportation Security Administration, to detect suspicious behavior: “I can understand why there’s an attempt being made to find a way to replace or improve on what human observers can do: the need is vast, for a country as large and porous as we are. However, I’m by no means convinced that any technology, any hardware, will come close to doing what a highly trained human observer can do.”

Seems like there may always be a role for alert security guards.

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