Emerging Tech

Technology could identify soldiers intent on suicide or murder

Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and injured 43 others in 2009.

Army Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and injured 43 others in 2009. // AP file photo

The Pentagon’s research wing is seeking technology that can determine whether a soldier is prone to commit suicide or murder.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is looking to fund the development of “mathematical and computational models that predict whether a person is likely to commit suicide,” contract databases reveal. The goal is to extend prototypes to “predict other neurocognitive states of extreme order, including homicidal intent.”

The program, called Predicting Suicide Intent, is being rolled out as officials try to diagnose mental illness more consistently across the military services. The Army, which has come under fire for failing to determine which soldiers are unfit to remain on duty, ordered a review in May of how its doctors diagnose psychiatric disorders.

The 2009 Fort Hood shootings by an Army psychiatrist that killed 13 intensified concerns that the military was allowing disturbed individuals to serve in uniform. The widely-reported suicide of Pvt. Danny Chen last October raised racially-charged questions from Asian American advocacy groups, and was a black eye for the military.

The algorithms developed under the DARPA program would derive data from a person’s brain chemistry and behavior, and deliver a snapshot of the individual’s frame of mind. The technology, if successfully developed, could be used to identify which soldiers need extra psychiatric monitoring. It could plausibly be integrated with lie-detector technology to determine if contractors and soldiers are fit for deployment. The goal is “objective classification of individuals who are at risk of committing suicide, within a reduced screening time and with less reliance on physician expertise,” a contracting notice says.

Briefings on the program will be held in Arlington, Va., on Oct. 19; a request for proposals is expected to be released soon.

Geoffrey Ling, who has worked on the critical care team at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, leads the program. He has also spearheaded efforts at DARPA to study brain injuries from improvised explosive devices and develop predictive technology to determine the best treatments for individuals.

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// July 21