The CIA has found a way to predict social unrest, extremist activities, and other threats to national security almost a week in advance: Combine lots of data, machine learning, and other technologies with old school know-how. It’s not the future as imagined by Minority Report — no psychic abilities are involved — but it could eventually allow the agency to peer further and further into the future.
Speaking at the Next Tech event on Tuesday, CIA deputy director for digital innovation Andrew Hallman said that the agency is using these techniques to great effect in the Directorate for Digital Innovation, which was established in 2015 to help the CIA embrace new tech.
“We have, in some instances, been able to improve our forecast to the point of being able to anticipate the development of social unrest and societal instability some I think as near as three to five days out,” Hallman said at the event. That might not seem like much, but agencies with resources like the CIA’s could likely accomplish quite a bit if they have almost a week to prepare for a specific event.
Those capabilities could advance alongside improvements to artificial intelligence. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), for example, is currently researching A.I. to get a better understanding of how it makes decisions.
Meanwhile, companies like Facebook are teaching A.I. how to extract information from images better than humans can. Combine smarter A.I. with a better understanding of how it all works, and groups like the CIA could easily make better predictions about what the future holds.
The CIA is effectively banking on A.I. to become its own personal psychic. Jokes about Precogs and A.I. making SkyNet from the Terminator series a reality aside, advancements like this have the potential of stopping threats to national security before they even start.