Friday, February 19, 2010


Hundreds to connect the dots

I'd previously wondered if it weren't possible to apply some Valley technology to help strengthen our national security in the wake of the attempted Christmas Day bombing. Since then, I'd come across Palantir Technology, a company the very much looks like what I had in mind. As heartening as this was, a recent New York Times piece, "New Teams Created to Connect Dots of Terror Plots," renewed my concerns. The counter terrorism center was preparing to cut its workforce up to 20 percent, but is now instead ramping up to connect the dots: While this level of commitment of resources is impressive, in absence of any other information, I think it would be troubling for technology people. If I were presenting this for technical approval, I could see one of the first questions coming: Does it scale? If large numbers of people is your resource in the absence of anything else, then maybe that's the approach. The 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony, for example, was astounding in its own right, but the jaw dropper was the performance of what appeared to be mechanically actuated boxes turning out to be hundreds of orchestrated, practiced people. But addressing the task of combing through mountains of data with humans just seems ultimately a sisyphean exercise. It may be okay that they may never get on top of the situation, but getting increasingly closer, or even maintaining the existing gap, may be all that we can ask. The problem is, the gap is growing, as this week's plane crash into an IRS building shows. Whether or not this event can be characterized as domestic terrorism, it remains that yet another vulnerability to be monitored has surfaced.

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