Research to Make Random More Random
(March 2008) There's safety (and security) in
Here’s how it works: Basically, computer software records the locations of routine, random vehicle checkpoints and canine searches at the airport. Police then provide data on possible terrorist targets and their relative importance. These data may change from one day to the next, or if there have been any security breaches or suspicious activity. A button is pushed, the computer runs, and—voilà—police get a model of where to go, and when. The software comes up with random decisions that are based on calculated probabilities of a terrorist attack at those locations, using mathematical algorithms.
The result: Security with airtight unpredictability. With the software, it’s extremely difficult to predict police operations.
“What the airport was doing before was not truly statistically random; it was simply mixing things up,” said computer science professor Milind Tambe. “What they have now is systematized, true randomization.”
Tambe is with the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), a
It was Tambe who had an “ah-ha moment” in 2004 that led to the
Praveen Paruchuri was a CREATE student at the time, and he, too, saw the connection. Then, in 2007, Paruchuri’s
Soon thereafter, Tambe and Paruchuri tested the software, and the project was born as a six-month trial period. And it was given a snappy name, of course: Assistant for Randomized Monitoring over Routes, a.k.a. ARMOR.
ARMOR has recently completed its six-month trial, and airport officials have given the university the “thumbs up” to transfer the software over to LAX on a more permanent basis. Meanwhile, other airports, agencies, and even businesses are starting to notice, Tambe said. It’s a project that’s attracting attention from coast to coast.
But, wait: What if terrorists get hold of ARMOR and use the same information? Couldn’t they solve the predictability puzzle? Not really, Tambe said. “Even if they got the software and all the inputs, it’d be like rolling