On campus today we were comparing how long we could go without a computer and internet. A guy had just returned from vacation and went ten days without a computer; he said he suffered withdrawal and didn’t think he could do it, but he did. I decided I could last  two days.  At some point my computer became my work station and my filing system. Twice I’ve had a virus  trash my computer so I’ve learned not to save anything valuable on it; instead I use a growing collection of USBs.  Considering the warnings out this week about the possibility of solar flares blowing out our computer systems, I assume  that banks and  the government have all their data backed up with a bunch of government sized USB drives. Something not made in China would be preferred.

I don’t know how many people  remember Hal, the authoritarian computer on board in Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, 2001 but my stomach has a sinking feeling that the  NSA missed the movie.  Here we are in 2011;  America is handing its space program over to Russia because we’re out of money and can’t afford it, yet the Federal Government has the funds to sink into virtual spying activity and aggregating the vast amounts of information they learned about us while spying.  And it’s not just spying on the bad guys but the good guys too- but wait- it gets worse:  then they take the data,  (using even more of our taxpayer money) and try to figure out ways to read our minds and predict our behavior with that information.   Hmmm.

And this  is legal why?

The NSA’s  artificial intelligent project,  Aquaint,  “Advanced QUestion Answering for INTelligence,” moved into new and larger headquarters three years ago to advance their research.  From Nova’s  article, The New Thought Police:”

The National Security Agency (NSA) is developing a tool that George Orwell’s Thought Police might have found useful: an artificial intelligence system designed to gain insight into what people are thinking.

With the entire Internet and thousands of databases for a brain, the device will be able to respond almost instantaneously to complex questions posed by intelligence analysts. As more and more data is collected—through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records—it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think.    The system is so potentially intrusive that at least one researcher has quit, citing concerns over the dangers in placing such a powerful weapon in the hands of a top-secret agency with little accountability.”

This spring when I attended the MIT 150 Symposium: Brains, Mind and Machines I was expecting lectures on cognitive research about human brains.  Wrong.  Current research is in the area of machination: building intelligent and creative machines by generalizing information they’ve gathered from studies on people and their brains.  What interested me most, and surprised me the most was seeing how very excited scientists and engineers are about the idea of AI being the next business venture. The development of computers changed the world and the marketplace, and from the money-making side of things, it literally opened a huge new venue of products to sell. The engineers and entrepreneurs who made fortunes with computer gadgets,  expect to cause the same explosion in the marketplace with AI.   I cringed; they cheered. Literally.

During the Bush administration countless  people ranted against the evils of his Patriot’s Act. Where are these people now? Busy Facebooking their life story, complete with personal information that ten years ago we would never have released.

I am no expert on AI or brain research but based on the research I have seen,   the NSA  project  to read our minds is probable, and will happen in the very near future.  That this data is in the hands of the government that developed nuclear energy, and instead of building peace, they built weaponry. …Need I say more?

Or that governments are being hacked by Chinese Communists…. need I say more?

I don’t know why my curiosity acted in hindsight but I decided to Google NSA “Acquaint” these few years later, -odd how nothing pops up.   I’m not pleased.   When a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?