Texas profs use AI news-ware to ID terror groups

Pundit-in-a-box tech beats spooks, claim developers

American computer academics say they have created an artificial-intelligence-based computer program which can scan news reports to swiftly identify which terrorist group is behind an outrage. They claim the "open source intelligence"* scanner gave good results in the wake of last year's Mumbai attack.

"Our group has written software in the highly flexible Python programming language that allows us to ask who might be the responsible party for a terrorist incident using a certain set of parameters, such as weaponry employed, choice of target and tactics," says Christopher Bronk, who is "Fellow in Technology, Society and Public Policy" at Rice Uni in Texas.

According to the Rice coders, their terrorist-snifferware uses "the latest techniques from artificial intelligence". It trawls through a mighty database of news reports compiled by the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups (ISVG) at Sam Houston State University.

It seems that as the Mumbai outrages unfolded last year, Rice undergrad Sean Graham began feeding news reports into the mighty program. In a trice, seemingly, it had ID'd the radical group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba as the most likely suspect - as fast or faster than the world's intelligence agencies were able to.

"We designed the software to better assign attribution in terror attacks, and it appears to have worked," said Bronk, a former diplomat and leading light of the US State Department Office of eDiplomacy.

"It allowed us to match signatures and say, with some confidence, what groups had the requisite experience, resources and coordinating factors to pull off the Mumbai attacks."

Bronk collaborated with politics prof Richard Stoll, computing boffin Devika Subramanian and some students to produce the code. His thoughts on the initiative can be read here. ®

Bootnote

*This isn't the IT usage of "open source". Spies and intel wonks like to refer to stuff anyone can access - eg internet news reports - as "open source intelligence", as opposed to classified stuff produced by organisations like the CIA, MI6/SIS, military intelligence etc.

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