The Future Attribute Screening Technology project (FAST) was not dreamed up by Philip K. Dick, but it could have been. Lead by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the initiative aims to use sensor technology to detect cues “indicative of mal-intent,” defined by the DHS as intent or desire to cause real harm — “rapidly, reliably, and remotely.” It would be used, they say, to fight terror.
The FAST system has the capability to monitor physiological and behavioral cues without contact. That means capturing data like the heart rate and steadiness of gaze of passengers about to board a plane. The cues are then run through algorithms in real-time to compute the probability that an individual is planning to commit a crime. According to the science journal Nature, the first round of field tests for the program was completed in an undisclosed location in the northeast several months ago. In lab tests, the FAST has a reported 70% accuracy rate.
Dystopian as that may sound, there is at least one clear improvement on the system we have now: the sensors are “culturally neutral,” says the DHS, which may help eliminate the racial profiling which is allegedly allowed by the TSA screening process in American airports today.
“It is encouraging to see an effort to develop a real empirical base for new technologies before any policy commitments are made,” Tom Ormerod, a psychologist in the Investigative Expertise Unit at Lancaster University told Nature.
For a nuanced discussion on the intuitive nature of crime and punishment, watch our interview with Sam Gosling, a professor of psychology at University of Texas Austin, who argues that investigators solve crimes by developing sensitivity to “the residue of our acts that we leave inadvertently on our space.”