WSU Anti-Terrorist Research

Has technology developed so quickly that we can detect the intentions of criminals just from facial clues caught on tape?

Wright State University is investigating this possibility by devoting a research team to recognize terrorists and other criminals by their facial expressions.  If effective, this project, funded by several defense organizations, could be extremely beneficial to agencies all over the world.  The projected estimated cost for the project is 1.3 million dollars.

Julie Skipper an associate research professor at Wright State, who is leading the project purports, “Even if your good at hiding your expressions, we’re hoping to uncover your underlying emotional state.” The researchers are employing a facial coding system that can track 20 different features.  The team is made up of 11 members ranging in fields from psychology, physics, and biomedical engineering.

The researchers are using high tech video cameras that can generate high resolution 3-D images based on light polarization.  So far, the research team has taken images of 20 subjects and 80 soldiers.   The thought of using actors to “fool” the cameras is also on the table.  Besides images, the study is investigating thermal features to reveal changes in heart rate and blood pressure.

“People can mask emotions, but it’s very difficult to mask your physiological responses,” says Skipper.  The researchers are trying to develop a stress-and-emotions framework that reveals the complexity of how emotions trigger facial expressions.  For instance, one terrorist might show they feel justified in their actions while another might show fear.

This technology is not just for detecting terrorists; it is also being developed to detect stress among military personnel.  For example, it can be used to detect when operators of unmanned aerial vehicles become overwhelmed by controlling too many aircraft at the same time.

Despite the immense benefits of such technology, there are setbacks such as what if a criminal is wearing glasses or a beard.  Also, lighting, distance and certain angles all must be taken into account for the program to be effective.  People who are distraught or running late for a plane could possibly display the same facial expressions as criminals or terrorists.

Doug Petkie, associate professor of physics and electrical engineering, says that the idea for detecting intent through facial expressions is a huge step.  He states, “This is taking that idea a step further mainly because technology has out leaped the science behind what we’re trying to do.  If we can measure intent, that’s the Holy Grail.”

Do you think that it is possible to measure a person’s intent through the face?  Is the human span of emotion too convoluted to understand with technology, no matter how advanced?  This sounds a little like the plot in the film “Minority Report” and remember how that movie ended?  What basis would this technology provide to arresting someone and how would it be specifically used to stop crimes and terrorists acts?

One response to “WSU Anti-Terrorist Research”

  1. Keith D. says:

    The only thing it can (constitutionally) be used for may be in questioning or selecting for enhanced screening. There might be a problem in determining a difference between intent and follow-through though. There may even be cases where someone has both the intent to commit some crime, and the fortitude to follow through with committing that crime, but the right encounter at the right time might be enough to dissuade them from continuing– I hope that if this research does eventually yield usable results that all involved won’t lose sight of that likelihood. It would be tragic to use this technology to preemptively punish someone for something they hadn’t done to the exclusion of finding an effective intervention which would eliminate the intent instead.

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