The Trump administration is reportedly considering a proposal which would collect data via smart devices such as the Amazon Alexa, Apple Watch, and Google Home, and then use advanced artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze this data in real-time and identify mental changes that would make people more prone to violent behavior.
According to The Washington Post, which cites a copy of the proposal and multiple people familiar with the proposal, it was first discussed in 2017 but has regained momentum in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings which occurred at the start of this month.
The sources say that the latest version of this proposal was advanced by the Suzanne Wright Foundation last week and includes a Safe Home (Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes) project. The Safe Home project would be part of a larger initiative which would sit inside the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA).
HARPA would, in turn, be part of the Health and Human Services Department and be modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – the research arm of the Pentagon which collaborates with other federal agencies, the private sector, and academia.
The Safe Home project reportedly involves collecting data from volunteers using devices such as:
- Amazon Echo
- Apple Watch
- Google Home
The report claims that it will also collect data from health care providers using “powerful tools” such as fMRIs, tractography, and image analysis.
In addition to collecting this data, HARPA will reportedly develop a “sensor suite” which uses advanced AI to identify “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act” and is thought to be able to help reduce gun violence.
The Washington Post says that a copy of the proposal also tasks HARPA with developing “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence.” The proposal reportedly stresses the need for “real-time data analytics” to achieve “accurate diagnosis.”
According to one of the sources, President Trump has reacted “very positively” to the HARPA proposal and has been “sold on the concept” but it’s unclear if he’s seen the Safe Home project.
Some of the sources added that the project won’t collective sensitive health data without user permission and that “privacy must be safeguarded.” However, they didn’t provide any specifics on the privacy safeguards that would be put in place.
The proposal hits many of the points Trump made in his statement in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings where he spoke in favor of preemptive action that would “stop mass murders before they start.” However, it comes at a time when concerns are growing over how smart speakers collect and share data.
This year, the major smart speaker manufacturers Apple, Google, and Amazon have all been caught sending user recording to third-party contractors – a practice that many smart speaker users were unaware of until the practice was reported in the media.
While many of these companies have since stopped sending these audio files to third-party contractors or given users an opt-out option, many consumers believe that this practice was a violation of their privacy and some are taking legal action.
These latest reports that the US government is considering using smart speakers to analyze people’s mental state in real-time are likely to add to the worries people already have about who is listening to the recordings made through these devices.