Terrorizing with Faces

In a review of Geoffrey Lloyd’s Cognitive Variations, Ian Hacking mentions the following, in passing:

“The War on Terror supports research to design computer programs based on Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System, which will pick out in passenger queues the faces of people planning to blow up planes; Ekman’s personal website lists a project aimed at detecting expressions of IDI – Immediate Deadly Intent. He also plans to process pixels in order to expose a demeanour that betrays “lies about the intent to commit a harmful act”. Very roughly speaking, much of the cognitive science community thinks this approach is right on, even if IDI is taking things too far. Some anthropologists think this is nuts, megalomaniac.” (from Ian Hacking, “How Shall We Repaint the Kitchen”, London Review of Books, November 1 2007)

A look at Paul Ekman’s website here confirms that this is actually pretty much what it’s going on there (DIWS is for Dangerous Intent Warning Signals). This is a most curious case for the history of science, of course. But it incidentally may shed some light on some intriguing parts of A Thousand Plateaus in which Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari discuss the face as an example of what they call an “abstract machine” (chapter 7: “Year Zero: Faciality”). Who knows. Maybe bumping into one of those total facial awareness devices in a boarding queue will help making Deleuze and Guattari’s point more explicit. Who would have thought that this book would end up being of use in airports?


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