Wednesday, June 01, 2011

U.S. spies want computers to analyze metaphors

May 30, 2011 6:22 PM PDT
by Tim Hornyak

Here's a linguistic can of worms for you: a U.S. intelligence agency is training computers to analyze metaphors used in foreigners' conversations to determine if they are a threat to national security.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a spy version of DARPA under the director of National Intelligence, is working on something called The Metaphor Program. It's no 1960s quiz show.

The program is meant to "exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture."

Researchers will apparently identify and define metaphors from English, Farsi, Spanish, and Russian texts and compile them into a database. But computers will do most of the work.

The first phase of the five-year program will "develop automated tools and techniques for recognizing, defining, and categorizing linguistic metaphors." Analysts would later compare subjects' statements to the database to try to determine their intentions. There's more info in a presentation here (PDF).


Metaphor Program Broad Agency Announcement
Solicitation Number: IARPA-BAA-11-04
Agency: Office of the Director of National Intelligence
Office: Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity
Location: IARPA1
Notice Type:
Combined Synopsis/Solicitation
Posted Date:
May 20, 2011
Response Date:
Jul 19, 2011 5:00 pm Eastern
Archiving Policy:
Automatic, on specified date
Archive Date:
June 19, 2012
Original Set Aside:
Set Aside:
Classification Code:
A -- Research & Development
541 -- Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services/541720 -- Research and Development in the Social Sciences and Humanities
Added: May 20, 2011 5:02 pm

The Metaphor Program will exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture. In the first phase of the two-phase program, performers will develop automated tools and techniques for recognizing, defining and categorizing linguistic metaphors associated with target concepts and found in large amounts of native-language text. The resulting conceptual metaphors will be validated using empirical social science methods. In the second phase, the program will characterize differing cultural perspectives associated with case studies of the types of interest to the Intelligence Community. Performers will apply the methodology established in the first phase and will identify the conceptual metaphors used by the various protagonists, organizing and structuring them to reveal the contrastive stances.

IARPA invites the private sector to assist it with operationally testing its new web-based electronic proposal submission system. IARPA has recently brought IARPA Distribution and Evaluation System (IDEAS) on-line, and seeks industry assistance with operationally testing and validating the system's performance.

In addition to delivering proposals to the McLean, VA address listed in BAA Section 4.C.2., IARPA encourages offerors to upload their proposal documents to the website at However, submitting proposals to IDEAS is not a requirement and is not a substitute for delivering proposals in accordance with BAA Section 4.C.2. Moreover, the Government will not evaluate proposal documents submitted to IDEAS. Rather, submissions to IDEAS will be compared to your formal submission for completeness only, to enable IARPA leadership to make a decision to move to Full Operating Capability for this new web-based system.

As stated in BAA Section 4.A.1., reviewers receive the electronic copy submitted by CD. Hard copies are primarily for archival purposes. In the case of inconsistencies between the hard copy and the CD copy, the CD copy takes precedence.


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