The NSA is working on a computer system that can predict what people are thinking.
“Think of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the most memorable character, HAL 9000, having a conversation with David. We are essentially building this system. We are building HAL. The system can answer the question, ‘What does X think about Y?'”
These are the words of an unnamed researcher who discussed an amazing artificial intelligence system she was building at the NSA.
It sounds like something right out of science fiction — a system that can literally read thoughts like a magician.
It’s called “Aquaint” (Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence), and PBS’s James Bamford takes a stab at explaining how it works:
“As more and more data is collected — through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records — it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think.”
Whether it works or not, we know that it’s so intrusive that at least one researcher has quit over the idea of placing such a powerful system in the hands of the an agency with little to no accountability.
At its best, the system could become a a valuable tool used for national security and beating Watson at Jeopardy. At its worst, it sounds like something from Orwell’s 1984.