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9/11 was the catalyst for many HLS technologies. Shabtai Shoval, founder of SDS (Suspect Detection Systems), following the terror attack, asked himself whether the event couldn’t have been foreseen and prevented.
“16 terrorists managed to plan a huge terror attack with almost no resources,” said Shoval. “They all entered the U.S., they all had Arabic names, none of them had any explosives and some expressed interest in getting a flight permit. None of them were known terrorists and their names weren’t on any list. Can you force every visitor entering the U.S. to undergo a polygraph test? That’s not practical.”
The solution is a system that will inspect visitors automatically and quickly, detecting any intent to commit a crime before it happens. According to Shoval he was somewhat inspired by the film “Minority Report” starring Tom Cruise, in which criminals-to-be are arrested by a “pre-crime” unit. Shoval gathered a group of founders and, with funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, developed their product.
The system is called Cogito, Latin for “I think.” It’s a system that can detect hostile intentions, to be used in border checkpoints, airports, offices and other sensitive spots. It combines traditional security questions with lie detection principles.
Here’s how it works. The subjects sit down and place their hand on a sensor, put on the attached headphones and look at the display in front of them. A series of questions is presented, which takes up to seven minutes to answer. The answers are analyzed, information is cross-referenced using an integrated database and eventually the system determines whether the subject is an innocent or a suspect. Suspects are subjected to further interrogation while innocents are free to continue.
The system checks various parameters such as skin conductivity, blood pressure, changes in facial temperatures and pupil dilation. Pupil analysis is more accurate than fingerprint analysis, as the pupil is harder to fake and its form varies from person to person. The subject’s fingerprints and vocal imprints are also recorded. These physiological parameters may indicate stress, and stress raises suspicion.
The system can identify criminal intent, membership in shady organizations and even temporary criminal service on behalf of a third party. Subjects asked whether they’re members of criminal or terrorist organizations will show some uncontrollable physiological reactions if they do actually belong to some illegal group.
The next generation of Cogito systems developed by SDS will be able to do all this at range, with no need to have subjects sitting in front of the machine. The systems will be installed in security gate systems and will use thermal sensors to get all the information they need.
According to Shoval the system can be used not only for transportation security, but organizations can use it to defend themselves against workers with malicious intentions. He gave Edward Snowden as an example. “If Snowden would have known that he had to pass a Cogito inspection every three months he may have acted differently.” Cogito can, for example, warn management when organization members download huge amounts of information for no reason.
According to the SDS marketing team it’s not an easy idea to sell. Most security system traditionally depend on the human element, such as security personnel asking questions, assuming that humans are irreplaceable. Getting used to machines doing most of this work will take time, but eventually authorities will realize that it works: Visitors spend mere minutes in line, with human security officers alerted only when there’s real suspicion.