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Technology identifies troubled individuals


Published:September 26, 2010, 12:00 AM

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Updated: September 26, 2010, 6:36 AM

Imagine using the same technology to locate a lone bomber before he carries out his terrorist act and to identify a troubled veteran or first responder ground down by tragedies and violence.

Stop imagining.

Some 120 local first responders from law enforcement and other agencies, the military and mental health professionals gathered Friday to hear firsthand about an advanced computer program that can accomplish those two seemingly different tasks.

The presentation was part of the International First Responder-Military Symposium held at Hilbert College in the Town of Hamburg.

A Swiss professor working with a Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist who heads the Mind Machine Project there outlined how this program operates through computerized scanning of phone calls and electronic messages sent through e-mail and social networking mechanisms.

“Suppose you know there’s a threat to the president when he is visiting, say, Texas. Through information obtained by the National Security Agency, we have the tools to go through huge quantities of data obtained from that area,” said professor Mathieu Guidere of the University of Geneva.

How? “The computer system detects resentment in conversations through measurements in decibels and other voice biometrics,” he said. “It detects obsessiveness with the individual going back to the same topic over and over, measuring crescendos.”

As for written transmissions scrutinized by the computer program, it can detect the same patterns of fixation on specified subjects, said Guidere, who has worked for years screening mass data that involves radicalization and ideological indoctrination.

Using character traits that have been identified through psychological profiles conducted on lone bombers following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Guidere said he and his colleagues developed programs that isolate signs pointing to a potential terrorist.

He said lone bombers, in particular, are not mentally deranged but harbor hatred and deep resentment toward government. Their emotional spikes, Guidere explained, can be identified by the computer program.

The practical side is that once the individual has been identified, the information can be passed along to authorities so surveillance can begin, he said.

Currently, the computer program can review 10,000 voice or other electronic transmissions in an hour. The goal, the professor said, is to increase the capacity to 100,000 per hour.

On the civilian side, the program can be used by psychologists and other mental health providers working with war veterans, law enforcement officials and others to measure their progress in recovery.

“By recording the voice of the patient, the program can rate negativity and positivity with depression and other emotional disorders,” said Guidere, who is working with Dr. Newton Howard, director of MIT’s Mind Machine Project.


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