Applying game theory to anti-terrorism

In what I would say is a smart play to making things more difficult for terrorists, Los Angeles airport security officials are using randomized security checkpoints to make pre-attack scouting work more risky.

…Anxious to thwart future terror attacks in the early stages while plotters are casing the airport, LAX security patrols have begun using a new software program called ARMOR, NEWSWEEK has learned, to make the placement of security checkpoints completely unpredictable. Now all airport security officials have to do is press a button labeled “Randomize,” and they can throw a sort of digital cloak of invisibility over where they place the cops’ antiterror checkpoints on any given day.

. . .

The ARMOR software is the real-world product of an idea that began as an academic question in game theory. USC doctoral student Praveen Paruchuri sought to find a way for one “agent” (or robot or company) to react to an adversary who has perfect information about the agent’s decisions. Using artificial intelligence and game theory, Paruchuri wrote a new, fast set of algorithms to randomize the actions of the first agent. But when he took the paper to prestigious AI conferences, nobody would publish the work. The basic reaction: great math, but so what? “They said, ‘We don’t see a practical use for it’,” says Milind Tambe, the USC engineering professor who led the ARMOR team. “It was very disappointing.”

I had a math professor in college who preferred to live in the world of theoretical math – it was cleaner, and not constrained by looking to make something out of the ideas studied. It sounds like Purachuri ran in to mostly theoretical mathematicians who didn’t like real-world products messing up their precious Gedankenexperiment work. Fortunately, LAX officials didn’t view the work the same as the academics at the conferences did. They wanted to talk more to the ARMOR product creators. Now, the project has been put to work for the airport.

It’s a smart premise, and if used more frequently than once a day, I could see this helping. Have the bog-standard set security screening points that we all know and love, add in sets of relocated daily mobile screening points, and throw randomly mobilized light-duty screening officers on top of it. It can be a hassle for the security officials, but should lead to less overall intrusion for standard travellers and more security visibility to potential terrorists or attackers. It sounds like it will make for better security, and as my regular (and exceptionally brillaint) readers know, I am all for security that leads to less intrusiveness for regular travellers, which ARMOR sounds like it will do. (via /.)

[tags]ARMOR software security tool, Randomized security checkpoints, Game theory, Mobile random screening[/tags]