Getting The Message

It ain’t just what you say, it’s the way that you say it

10 min read
Opening illustration for this feature article.
Illustration: Jonathan Barkat

Much of the sophisticated surveillance equipment that the United States used to win the Cold War is hardly tailored to the “war” on terrorism, say intelligence observers both inside and outside the government. For one thing, reconnaissance satellites developed to measure every cubic yard of concrete poured into Soviet airstrips, missile silos, bunkers, and radar posts are overkill for keeping tabs on a mobile enemy who may build perfectly adequate facilities out of scrap lumber and plastic sheeting. Similarly, undersea listening posts designed to catch stealth submarines may be useless against weapons that enter the United States by rustbucket freighter.

But sheer volume of data is an even bigger problem [see “Listening In”]. Intelligence aimed against “asymmetric warfare,” says Robert Popp, deputy director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA’s) Information Awareness office, must be able to pick up on clues generated by the behavior of a few isolated conspirators scattered across the globe while ignoring the billions of conversations and other transactions conducted by innocent individuals. Intelligence analysts need ways of detecting and recognizing the significance of such unorthodox activities as the anomalous flight training that preceded the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Being able to spot known terrorists’ faces in airports, recognize their voices reliably on tapped phone lines, or discover what they are saying in a timely fashion would also be nice.

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A teleoperated humanoid robot torso stands in a kitchen assembling a turkey sandwich from ingredients on a tray

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

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