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The Military Science

How a 1960s Discovery In Neuroscience Spawned a Military Project 112

Harperdog writes "This is pretty fascinating: The Chronicle of Higher Ed has an article about a DARPA project that allows researchers to scan satellite photos, video, etc., and have a computer pick up differences in brain activity to tell whether an image has been seen...images that might flash by before conscious recognition. From the article: 'In a small, anonymous office in the Trump Tower, 28 floors above Wall Street, a man sits in front of a computer screen sifting through satellite images of a foreign desert. The images depict a vast, sandy emptiness, marked every so often by dunes and hills. He is searching for man-made structures: houses, compounds, airfields, any sign of civilization that might be visible from the sky. The images flash at a rate of 20 per second, so fast that before he can truly perceive the details of each landscape, it is gone. He pushes no buttons, takes no notes. His performance is near perfect.'"
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How a 1960s Discovery In Neuroscience Spawned a Military Project

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:39PM (#40622711)

    It just has a terribly documented API.

    • by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:59PM (#40622921)

      Well the API has too many wrappers and obsolete interfaces to take care of.
      If we could just get that processor out of that power hungry finicky motherboard and package in glassware, and maybe hook up hundred of them...

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      God just didn't give us the API manual :)

    • What, the Bible's not good enough for ya?

    • by lightknight ( 213164 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:20PM (#40623115) Homepage

      What API? It's self-modifying software / hardware that many societies are so fed up with, they try running a virtual machine on top that does what they want it to do. That's what 12+ years of education is about, paring you down to the least common denominator, until you match a wine-drinker's normal model.

      Lower / middle / high school -> punishment before the Almighty hierarchy depending on how well you conform to your peer's standards. College / real life -> working hard at a job to earn money so you can try to retrieve the relative peace of mind you once had when people didn't expect anything of you. When you're younger, you try to grow up, to get at those privileges denied to you by your seniors, when you're older, you try to stay the same age. And when you're really old, you look forward to death as some form of rest.

      Someone, somewhere, thought that if you're borderline sentient, you wouldn't be able to be unhappy, or that you'd be so busy with trivial problems that you wouldn't get bored enough to die. Hence schools belt out kids, year after year, that appear to be successively less knowledgeable, in pursuit of some golden "Ignorance is bliss." Well, it's not. However, there are things we can do, somewhat independent of intelligence, that we can enjoy until we discover sentient life somewhere else in the universe / multiverse / whatever. My personal favorite, of course, is watching anime and reading manga, which as I am terrible at foreign languages, should keep me preoccupied with a pleasantly futile task until sometime after the last star cools. Pick a task you're not particularly good at, and stick with it; for some of us, this will be rising at an early hour, for others, this will be evolving / designing cats that yodel (going to need a Bass, a Soprano, a Falsetto...and since they're cats, getting them to do something as a group is the futile task).

      • by Ryanrule ( 1657199 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @09:24PM (#40623655)

        Kids on your lawn again?

      • That's what 12+ years of education is about, paring you down to the least common denominator, until you match a wine-drinker's normal model.

        too bad you didn't stick to your education until the magic happens and you realize that it's teaching you how to think. You aren't born with much idea of how to use your brain. Education is the distillation of thousands of years of experience reverse-engineering the brain.

        • by yndrd1984 ( 730475 ) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @12:38AM (#40624683)

          too bad you didn't stick to your education until the magic happens and you realize that it's teaching you how to think

          I think you guys are conflating 'education' with 'schooling'. "I have never let my schooling interfere with my education." - Mark Twain

        • Education is the distillation of thousands of years of experience reverse-engineering the brain.

          That's true and it sounds great as long as you trust the people in charge of doing the reverse engineering. I, for example, had most of my formal education in Catholic institutions and I do not at all trust the Catholic church to teach me how to think.

          Extreme right wing and extreme left wing governments use the educations system to control the populations, as do religions of all flavors. In my own country, Australia, our left wing government is implementing a left wing national curriculum. They got the i

          • I said education teaches you how to think, not what to think. There is a big difference.
            • I said education teaches you how to think, not what to think. There is a big difference.

              Yet the difference is not evident, as far as I'm aware, in the public schooling of any country in the world. Unless we accept a "no true education system" defense. Otherwise, manipulative marketing and political PR campaigns would be of little effect.

      • by Raenex ( 947668 )

        That's what 12+ years of education is about, paring you down to the least common denominator, until you match a wine-drinker's normal model.

        Umm, what? It's about teaching you something in the hopes you can be a useful part of society instead of a Walmart greeter.

        • And yet we have so many Walmart greeters. I take it that fact doesn't bother you.

          Now tell me that they've became Walmart greeters because they didn't learn as they were supposed to in school. Tell me it's their fault. Do it.

          • by Raenex ( 947668 )

            Many of them, sure, they didn't take school seriously. I knew a lot like that when I went to school. And the fact remains, school is about education, not your silly "least common denominator" view. If you want "least common denominator", then taking your advice about striving to do shit poorly like read manga is the way to go.

          • ITS A TRAP!
          • Tell me it's their fault. Do it.

            If they don't like what they are doing, then yes it's their fucking fault for not doing what it takes to change their situation. And I say this as a high school drop out who gained a BSc as a 30yo while driving taxis and supporting a family with two school age kids. I've lived in what americans call a "trailer park" and done my 15yrs of shit jobs, some of them such a "lumberjack" I enjoyed immensly, others were border line torture. I'm now in my 50's and very glad to have been taught "how to think" (or mor

            • A little late to comment but I found your post inspiring and a wonderful counterpoint to the prevailing attitudes of the young people in the workforce today.

              (cue 'youth of today, youth of today..' and 'get off my lawn' comments)

    • That of males is documented slightly better than that of females.

    • It just has a terribly documented API.

      Only a nerds have a problem with the API, the rest of humanity calls it "intuative".

  • and of course stuff like this & google goggles is only the beginning

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:47PM (#40622797) Homepage Journal

      Drink Coke.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      google goggles is going to be DOA if a real product ever comes out of it. They look stupid; glasses are obtrusive; and I really can't think of a bigger way to broadcast that you're a dork than walk around with those on your face. Oh, and if you're wearing those and having a conversation with me in person, I will definitely want to punch you in the face. It's like a more irritating version of putting your face in your phone while talking to someone.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yep, I think applications in the consumer market are not going to be wildly popular for just these reasons. But I can think of some very cool uses in the commmercial/industrial space like hands-free barcode scanning for warehouse receipting & stocktakes, or live video feeds or photos while performing repair work.

      • by icebike ( 68054 ) * on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:04PM (#40622987)

        Google Glasses can be disguised, and roughly half the population wear some form of glasses anyway.
        No, they will not be DOA, they will be wildly successful, especially if they can be made to look like regular sunglasses or prescription glasses.

        Do you run around punching people who wear Bluetooth headsets in the ear?

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Do you run around punching people who wear Bluetooth headsets in the ear?

          Be fair; he said he would "want to punch you in the face." And there's scads of internet tough-guys proclaiming their desire to punch headset-wearers in the ear, face, and/or crotch, so yes. He probably does.

        • Nah, there's far more entertaining things you can do to them. :)

        • Do you run around punching people who wear Bluetooth headsets in the ear?

          Don't tempt me! Quite a bit of the time I can't tell if the speaker is talking to me or to someone via their cell.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Do you run around punching people who wear Bluetooth headsets in the ear?

          Not before now, but thanks for the great idea!

        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

          "Do you run around punching people who wear Bluetooth headsets in the ear?"

          Do? No, not usually. Want to? Absolutely. Associate with them? Absolutely not.

          IF Google glasses can be hidden, they MIGHT sell some. That's a pretty big IF though. At least in the near future.

        • by kav2k ( 1545689 )
          Hmmm, that actually gives me an idea..
          I think that Google Glass should include a crucial feature..
          ..the ability to punch people in the face over standard TCP/IP
          Well, maybe not punch, due to platform limitations, but a shock should be an acceptable substitute and first step.
          We already have "push" messaging, so we're just a step away anyway.
        • by Nyder ( 754090 )


          Do you run around punching people who wear Bluetooth headsets in the ear?

          Yes I do.

          Then I say, "Can you hear me now?"

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 )

        Wait, you cannot carry on a conversation without looking at someone? Why the hell should I look at someone just to talk with him, that's what my ears are for. I can use my eyes for something more useful than looking at your face.

        Jeesh, some people are really full of themselves. Just 'cause I'm talking with you doesn't mean you need my full attention, there are very few people who can actually transfer information fast and complicated enough to need this elevated level of attention.

        • by PlusFiveTroll ( 754249 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @10:17PM (#40623995) Homepage

          Looking at someone while talking to them conveys much more information then just the speech alone. Does one person have a confused look on their face? Is the other party trying to stop you from speaking so they can ask something non-verbally? Does the other person look like they totally don't give a fuck?

          I do hope you understand the importance of nonverbal communication [] in conversation. Engagement [] is a very important part of communication, and is much of the reason why people still travel long distances to have face to face meetings in business. It's not just some people, it's most people that feel important when you look at them when you talk, especially the people that have the greatest monetary influence on your life, bosses, girlfriends, customers...

          A lot of geeks and nerds get the label, not because of their obsession with their trade, but the inability to communicate with other people properly.

          Q: How can a woman tell the difference between a geek and a jock?
          A: A jock stares at her breasts, a geek stares at her shoes.

        • Why the hell should I look at someone just to talk with him, that's what my ears are for.

          Because it is polite.
          And for me it is easier for me to understand you. I am not deaf, and I don't read lips. But I am hard of hearing, and seeing your face actually helps me to hear what you are saying.
          Plus I know you are talking to me and not to someone else.

  • New Airport Scanner (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @07:46PM (#40622789)

    Sir, please sit down and stare at this screen for 60 seconds.

    (13.18 seconds later)

    BEEP! Warning: this person has seen pedophile material!

    After weeks of research to prove he's innocent, the man brings his family photo album in which we can see naked baby pictures that look very similar in decor, photo angle, etc.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      That BEEP would prove that the person has already been to the airport once (and was shown those pictures).

    • by Thiez ( 1281866 )

      What exactly is the point of preventing people who have seen 'pedophile material' from flying? It's not like anyone is going to abuse children in a crowded place where their name is registered, while being thousands of feet up in the air without any out-of-sight places.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    That man has the saddest job in the world.

    • Sitting on your ass, staring at a screen, not doing anything...

      Now, I did not RTFA, so I don't know whether he needs some kind of special training or whether he's a one in a million guy with some special "talent", but it sounds like a job that a lot of people would like to do. And considering a few coworkers of mine, I know a lot of people who would be very well suited to it...

      • Tell me about it. I would love this job. Stare at a screen all day? I do that anyway!

      • Re:dude (Score:5, Informative)

        by blackest_k ( 761565 ) on Thursday July 12, 2012 @03:33AM (#40625431) Homepage Journal

        The cheapest robot is the human being, and if you ever worked on a factory floor you would know that is usually true. A shift doing one simple action over and over again to the pace of a machine.

        To give one simple example a flow wrap machine for a crisp/chip factory doing a multipack. The production process is already automated as much as possible. A bulk loader trailer (a lorry trailer with a conveyor in the bottom of it feeds potato's into a flume the PLC turns the conveyor on and off as required controlling the flow of potato's into the system. the flume takes the potato's to a 3 stage peeler which are abrasive rollers with progressively finer rolls. next the grader halver
        which just passes through potato's of an appropriate size or cuts them down in size. the next stage is a number of spinning drums with razor blades which cut the chips/crisps followed by a bath to remove starch and into a fryer. On exiting the chips/crisps are run down a belt and made to jump onto a second one above this are camera's and a series of air jets the cameras are looking for burnt bits when they spot a burnt crisp the air jet blasts the burnt chip down between the 2 belts onto a cross belt and then feeds back to the first belt since the airjet will take some good chips of as well as the burn't ones so the waste is kept down. So far two people have jobs largely changing the blades on the chipper and monitoring the oven. producing about 7500kg of chips an hour.

        the next stage is to flavour stations and packing which is fed by a series of vibrating conveyors (which are stainless steel troughs not belts). At a flavour station flavouring is added and a multi-head weigher collects the chips into bins and that calculates the weights needed to get your 25g bag eg two bins have 8g and 17g so these are opened together the packets are a sheet of plastic foil which is folded and seamed and crimped and cut. the top of one bag becomes the base of the next bag and when the chips are dropped the bag isn't made until part way through the fall.

        The sealed packet then hits another conveyor which weighs the bags to check they are in specification and rejects the ones that are not (very few in practice) then either onto a rotating table where the human puts 48 in a box. or to the robot which unfolds the carton tapes it lines up 8 bags picks them up puts them in making 6 layers and seals it (if it only picks up 7 it rejects them which can be a big problem) and then the human stacks the cartons. That packing robot is an expensive piece of kit costing roughly 10 years worth of wages of a human packer, but can run 24/7 usually 24/5.

        Back to multipacks a flow wrap machine has a sectioned belt so flavour A goes in 1 flavour B in 2 and flavour C in the third. the multipack is essentially a large packet with a simpler machine feeding it. it's old technology really (you can do a similar process to making the actual bags with a bigger multihead weigher) , but to feed that machine you have a bunch of operators who just put bags into the sections pick up drop pick up drop repeat for 8 hours 5 days a week pretty mind numbing soul destroying work but it's a job. You actually automate yourself to do it, more muscle memory than thought, pacing the machine. they do at least move stations every 15 minutes but you pretty much know how many laps you do before each break and per shift.

        Thing is there are a lot of jobs like this just as soul destroying so the guy processing 5 images a second is his job any worse than this type of repetitive pick up and drop job?

        The camera system on the crisp line essentially identifies black pixels and uses that to determine when product is burnt, a steam peeler (super heated steam blasts new potato's for about 30 seconds) uses a similar camera system to identify potato's with skin still attached. again its dark where it should be light. Systems maybe are better at recognising features these days but it always will be hard, maybe detecting a human detecting a feature is easier, does it have to be h

        • by equex ( 747231 )
          Every human is going to end up having an android avatar that does the actual productive work, actual humans will just basically keep the avatars running so everything else is kept up.
        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          I used to enjoy automating processes because it releases people from doing boring meaningless jobs. The trouble is what to do with the people who are now redundant? Without jobs they can't buy the products and commerce starts to break down.

          That's the sad thing. We could solve that if we allow for the basic income or similar schemes. Ideally, human labor should pay well enough that automation is always the right answer where possible.

  • by game kid ( 805301 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:04PM (#40622991) Homepage

    Things like plot and game-mechanic spoilers, shock sites, and things I'd generally rather not read or view instead burn into my brain even before I get a chance to realize what hit my eyes. Other things (however important) end up filed away in my brain's apparently vast realm of Please Jog My Memory, I Forget.

    I'm pretty sure it's normal (if not crucial for natural responses like fight-or-flight []), but it still amuses me (except when it disturbs me).

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Next up: what's the effect on a human brain of spending half an hour watching images flash past too quickly to absorb? Eight hours? How do you keep awake?

  • by Yakasha ( 42321 ) on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:43PM (#40623311) Homepage
    Hook up a bunch of vegges with functional visuals to city-wide cameras (or whatever venue you want to watch). Stick a wanted poster next to the screen and wait for the spike.
    • Hook up a bunch of vegges with functional visuals to city-wide cameras

      The excited state decays by vibrational relaxation into the first excited singlet state. Yes, yes and merrily we go. Reduce atmospheric nitrogen by 0.03%. It is not much consolation that society will pick up the bits, leaving us at eight modern where punishment, rather than interdiction, is paramount. Please, cut the fuse. They will not harm their own. End of line. Limiting diffusions to two dimensions increases the number of evoluti

  • But (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 11, 2012 @08:50PM (#40623375)

    What happens when he blinks?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Don't blink. Blink and you're dead.

    • He blinks after frame change i guess. I think its similar to the concept of tripple buffering: If the frame is already read, you can safely do something else, but you still need to open the eye during the next frame. At 20 FPS you have quite a lot of time.

  • Galaxy Zoo could possibly benefit from this tech. Or oncologists who stare at MRI images looking for tumors.
  • Not helping an inverted tortoise. I mean, inverted turtle?
  • ....begins the development of the Mentat.

  • The one big (science) flaw in the movie "The Matrix" was why they needed to use humans.

    They had some pseudo babble involving using the humans as batteries (involving cold fusion I think).

    Instead, they should've had the machines using the unused portions (we're only using 10 percent right?)* of the humans brains for things like this, image recognition which machines suck at.

    Anyway, anytime the Wachowski brothers need a science consultant I'm right here (Wisebabo :). (I actually helped with the writing of on

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What has been seen can not bee unseen!

  • What was the result of the military research?

  • "Citizen, you seem to have an unauthorised copy of our film in your brain! That will cost you a quadrillion dollars and 3 years in prison."

    Also, how do they plan to filter out fake recognition events like déja vu?

  • This will be interesting in a decade or two when they start using this as a court approved "lie detector".

    Cops: "Your Honor, Mr. Smith tested positively of identifying the women we're accusing him of murdering. Although he requested a lawyer soon after, we found that the new NeuroIdent(tm) analyzer in the interrogation room remotely read a spike when we showed him a picture of the body, he also showed a spike when we flashed a picture of the murder weapon, a kitchen knife."

    Judge: "This is the woman

  • They could couple these sensors with an image search algorithm of the NSA database and there you have it, the Intersect.

    Obviously, the whole storing the database in your head is a bit far fetched but imagine a pair of glasses that contained a wireless radio that processed the input from the sensors detecting a recognition in your brain forwarding that to the database and returning a result back to display on the glasses to the wearer or to a bluetooth connected device.

    I don't work with image matching but I

  • BBC had a documentary called Out Of Control where they show this technology. []
    It's a very interesting hour-long program. It makes me wonder if it is me that's posting this to slashdot or my subconscious overlord inside my brain.

  • That guy got promoted from the goat staring department.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"