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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

DARPA finds the best sentry is a man-machine hybrid

Unmanned drones are becoming more commonplace in the skies above us, and depending on their location, many of them also carry weapons. There’s a growing concern over whether one day control of firing those weapons will revert to a computer rather than a human, and with it we all take a step closer to Skynet.

But it seems we don’t need to concern ourselves too much (yet), as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has discovered combining a computer and a human makes for a much more reliable threat analysis system regardless of what kind of robot/drone weapons are attached to.

Recent tests carried out by the agency attempted to find out what the best solution for a sentry would be: a sentry being a system that monitors an area for threats. Would it be a computer controlled system, a human, or both? Take either a human or a computer in isolation and both make mistakes, but DARPA found by combining the two you get just 0.2% false positives, or a sentry that performs correctly 99.8% of the time.

The man-machine hybrid that achieved such high levels of accuracy is called the Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System or CT2WS. It works by sitting a trained person in front of a wide-angle camera and radar video feed while they are hooked up to an electroencephalogram device.

The person is there to view footage captured by the camera, but the footage presented is better than anything a human alone could see. That’s because the camera has an increased field of view and the radar can highlight things not normally visible to our eyes. The thing that pushes this hybrid system over the top,though, is the use of the electroencephalogram.

An electroencephalogram device, commonly referred to as EEG, is used to measure brain activity. What the system does is detect when the user’s brain unconsciously recognizes something on the display, and can therefore react to it or bring it to the attention of the person.

So what we have here is a sentry system that relies on a human being present, yet can see more and react to more potential threats than a human could ever hope to achieve alone. DARPA has effectively created a super-human sentry thanks to technology.

More at MIT Technology Review and DARPA

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