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Move Over Palm-Readers — USAF Scientists Want to Build a Machine that Gazes into the Future

Written by on Friday, June 22nd, 2012

They say that knowledge is power. Considering the fact that the US government launches billions of dollars worth of technology into orbit in order to spy on our neighbors, you’ve got all the evidence you need to prove the validity of that old adage. Clearly, being able to predict the target of a launched ICBM is valuable, but what if you developed a machine that could predict when and if a society would ever push that big red button?

That’s what top USAF scientist Dr. Mark Maybury wants to do, assuming he can figure out how to build such a complicated gadget. A veritable digital crystal ball, this machine, which Maybury called, “Social Radar,” would allow US officials to peer into the hearts and minds of people and figure out what they’re likely to do. Don’t think of this as crazy ESP mind reading stuff or Vulcan mindmelds. It’s more like using a mix of technology and psychology to form a really, really educated guess.

Maybury came up with this bizarre idea after the USAF became increasingly demanding of the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) that he was supplying. They didn’t want to hear “probably” or “maybe,” they wanted cold, hard facts and reliable predictions. Maybury says that if you want to figure out how people will act, you’ve got to get in their heads: “That’s human behavior. And so [we need to] understand what motivates individuals, how they behave.”

Well, he’s right about that. Nobody’s disagreeing with him there. The big question is whether or not it’s even possible to predict the future of a nation. Could this be the birth of the ultimate in ISR technology, or does it belong in the same buy cialis cheap category as healing crystals and pet psychics?

Maybury believes that the US government could develop a system that takes in every available scrap of information — from voting patterns and religious movements to TV shows and Twitter feeds. Push a button, wait for the computer to churn the information, and out pops a readout of how likely a culture is to go to war… or sign up with the UN, or suffer an economic collapse, or whatever else you program the machine to do.

If it sounds stupidly ridiculous and utterly impossible, you’re not alone. Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper told Science magazine, “They are smoking something they shouldn’t be” when he heard about the plan.

Maybury dismisses the nay-saying as short-sighted, “Just like nobody could imagine seeing through the night or seeing through water, nobody can imagine seeing attitudes. And actually, in my view, that’s very much a future reality.”

It’s difficult to imagine how a program like this would work, and it’s just as difficult trying to imagine how the government would ever fund something like this. On the one hand, a functional fortune telling machine would be the single most valuable piece of military technology since the invention of the pointy stick, but on the other hand it’s hard to justify throwing berjillions of dollars into R&D and breaking the bank when the only evidence you have going for it is a scientist saying, “I’m pretty sure it should work.” He is the number-one USAF scientist, though, so he could theoretically wipe the floor with other keynote speakers who have reason to complain about the idea.

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