DARPA’s Influence Peddling, Affective Computing & Simulating Empathy + Interspecies Money

Sebs Solomon—July 15, 2022

12 min readJul 16, 2022

I see a connection with DARPAs influence campaign programs and research regarding social media (covered here) and Jonathan Ledgard’s interspecies currencies (covered by Leo and Alison on Silicon Icarus here and on Doom&GloomHQ here) because both have a much larger and similar ambition of perfecting affective computing and scaling computational game theory — combined, both are a mix of economics, psychology, cognitive science, mathematics, and computer science. The mass amount of data that will be collected from constant and persistent psychographic and demographic profiling—which is present in affective computing and computational game theory—would contribute to creating everyone’s digital twin.


Affective computing is supposed to help machines learn to simulate empathy (Turing tests) — to give machine emotional intelligence. In my opinion, one cannot program empathy. It’s not possible because a machine cannot and does not have free will—the directions are literally coded in 1’s and 0’s and it cannot know what it is not programmed to know. I suppose someone could try to make the argument that humans are just combinations of strands of DNA and that free will is an illusion, but that goes in a different direction and I will return to it later. Hopefully, I remember.

So, before I get ahead of myself, let me start from the beginning:

A few months ago, I made a video about DARPA’s SMISC (Social Media in Strategic Communication) program that officially began in 2011—one year before the Smith-Mundt Act was amended under Obama (the act, allegedly, banned domestic propaganda in the United States, but I don’t think many ever really followed that law in the first place). Here is a link to the video. Let me just highlight Rand Waltzman, who was the program manager for the SMISC program at DARPA—he made a rather interesting point in an interview posted on Valuetainment (a channel on YouTube). Waltzman said that it is mostly American companies (and individuals) who are hired by international (or transnational) organizations and governments for the purpose of psychological warfare on people who live inside of the United States.

I take Waltzman’s perspective with a grain of salt, but I believe he made a critical point that is important to remember when talking about “foreign” propaganda—it is often the people who live inside the country and understand or are familiar with the cultural norms who help facilitate the psychographic and demographic profiling for the funneling of narratives to the correct groups. That, obviously, doesn’t excuse the unethical behavior of other nations (outside of the U.S.) with corrupt governments and private sectors, either. I guess the point I am trying to make is that the American government, itself, would not have officially legalized domestic propaganda if they were actually concerned about “foreign influence” because then they wouldn’t have made “foreign influence” so easy to manifest through domestic actors (by amending Smith-Mundt in 2012). That’s all I’m saying—I know it’s not “breaking news” but even by mainstream records, this looks highly suspect and farcical. A ruse was afoot.

I mention the Smith-Mundt Act, because that was one of the “legal” barriers DARPA faced when they wanted to use the SMISC program to create “counter-messages” to combat misinformation and detect “deception campaigns” on social media, tweets, blogs, or other online multimedia content. To accomplish this task, DARPA’s SMISC focused on: linguistic cues, patterns of information flow, detection of sentiment, tracking ideas and concepts to analyze patterns and cultural narratives, modeling emergent communities, and analyzing narratives and their participants.

From my DARPA video on Doom&Gloom

In the video, I also talk about DARPA’s INCAS (Influence Campaign Awareness and Sensemaking) program—which was designed to help the intelligence and military apparatus persistently engage in asymmetric and continual war of weaponized influence narratives with “adversaries” (and most likely the domestic population, as well).

The official purpose stated was “to combat misinformation”—a meaningless quest when the definition of “misinformation” changes based on whether the information fits or contradicts the preferred narrative. Of course, there is also cognitive bias and logical fallacies involved, but that’s another topic for another time—or check out these videos I made: about ideological bubbles/cognitive bias here and about doublespeak/fallacies here. Since new or slow campaigns are harder to predict (track early); the INCAS program helped fix the problem of connecting messages over time and across platforms (interoperable) in order to track and examine new or evolving campaigns (and create counter-messaging, of course).

From my DARPA video on Doom&Gloom

Several research teams were selected from a number of universities and companies (like Lockheed Martin and University of Maryland) to assist with the INCAS program. Research areas focused on detecting misinformation in tweets, blogs, and videos. Other research teams were working to develop techniques that could divide and categorize groups of people, characterize each group using psychographic and demographic indicators, and identify any patterns or correlations among influence indicators and responses—this is just simply called profiling and applying motive based on psychographic and demographic indicators (law enforcement already does this).

In July 2021, DARPA announced a $5.4 million contract with Protagonist Technology for the INCAS project. Protagonist Technology experts were set to develop tools that would “dynamically segment the responding population and identify psychographic attributes such as world views, morals, and sacred values.” They would accomplish this by utilizing “publicly available data sources including multilingual, multi-platform social media, online news sources, and online reference data.” This relates to why so many social media platforms have made efforts to connect to one another—for example, Rumble offers you an opportunity to link your Rumble channel with your YouTube channel (no, that doesn’t directly relate to the quote exactly, but they did say multi-platform social media). The larger point is this, everything will be interoperable and although that might be more convenient, it also makes it easier to clamp down on people deemed problematic, that’s all.

From my DARPA video on Doom&Gloom

Affective Computing at the Biosecurity Research Institute, Kansas State University

Source: Affective Computing at the Biosecurity Research Institute, Kansas State University

Affective computing is the study and development “of systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate human affects. It is an interdisciplinary field spanning computer science, psychology, and cognitive science. While the origins of the field may be traced as far back as to early philosophical inquiries into emotion.” According to a paper from Kansas State University (published by USC) affective computing has several promising areas for applications in virtual reality, smart surveillance, and perceptual inferences (when the brain fills in the gaps for what is missing from the sensory stimuli). The Kansas State paper highlighted that by 2004, there was a study “by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to study emotional state recognition to determine potential criminal intent which also sparked debate about ethics in affective computing.” A machine cannot recognize a person’s intentions, that is bunk science.

DARPA even launched an application that posited to predict emotion and intention (a ludicrous notion). The project is called PRIDE (Prediction and Recognition of Intent, Decision and Emotion) and it aims “to create an AI that can understand and predict reactions of a group, rather than an individual, and then offer guidance on what to do next.” It just sounds ridiculous on its face, how can you predict the actions of separate individuals based on the data of the group in which you put them? Of course I have been guilty of generalizing before, I am not trying to come off like I’ve never done such a thing in my life, but this is on a much larger scale and the consequences of this foolish endeavor will either blow up in the state department’s face or they’ll get lucky and no one will notice or care—my bet is on no one noticing or caring, to be perfectly honest. Perhaps, I am a cynic.

According to this DARPA presentation from 2020, the DoD plans to build “a biographical description from an individual’s epigenome to transform forensics and diagnostics for national security.” Not spooky at all. This seems like it could usher in a biosecurity apparatus where there is a digital representation of you (digital twin)—down to even how your past behavior and environment affect the way your genes work aka epigenetics (modeled and simulated, digitally, with 1’s and 0's).

Source: DARPA Epigenetic Characterization and Observation (ECHO)

Another paper (also out of Kansas State University) titled Arousal Detection for Biometric Data in Built Environments using Machine Learning describes an approach using:

Wearables to demonstrate the viability of measuring physiometric arousal indicators such as heart rate in assessing how urban built environments can induce physiometric arousal indicators in a subject. In addition, a machine learning methodology is developed to classify sensor inputs based on annotated arousal output as a target. The results are then used as a foundation for designing and implementing an affective intelligent systems framework for arousal state detection via supervised learning and classification.

Source: Arousal Detection for Biometric Data in Built Environments using Machine Learning

Last thing on Kansas State University Biosecurity Research Institute, the site is also home to the DoD’s new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility that is opening this summer (in 2022)—it is replacing the Plum Island Animal Disease Center that is currently in Orient Point, New York. It’s a hop and a skip away from Long Island and according to the google reviews on the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, the lab was accused of releasing Lyme disease in the 80's—this pitiful article on DefenseOne addresses such accusations in the most incomplete and antagonistic fashion (you just have to laugh). They, more or less, say that anyone who makes such claims is a conspiracy theorist then they mention that Congress was going to be looking into it. I have no specific opinion on the matter because I have not done any research on this particular topic, but this comment by Jane Roe stood out to me:

Source: Google Review on Plum Island Animal Disease Center

She said, three years ago, that the DoD was planning on moving the facility to the midwest (which they did because it is moving to Manhattan, Kansas). Moving the facility from Plum Island, New York to Manhattan, Kansas—does that read bizarrely to anyone else? Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, Jane Roe added that moving the bio-dump to the center of America — in the middle of all of the dairy/farming and food production region would kill the country from the inside — I agree with Jane Roe, but I would go a step further and say it shouldn’t exist at all, let alone be moved anywhere.

—Before I stray too far away, let me circle back and get into the interspecies money and computational game theory that this essay was originally about—I get sidetracked so much, my apologies.

Interspecies Money & Computational Game Theory

In order to predict behavior and stop malicious acts (which is the stated purpose of game theory) affective computing is critical because it is utilized in smart surveillance — that’s how computational game theory and affective computing are related (well, it’s bigger than that, but we’ll start there).

According to chapter five of a book published by Brookings Institute titled Interspecies Money; this type of currency was made possible by breakthroughs in AI pattern recognition—credit goes to Leo Saraceno for finding this paper. Cambridge researchers reported to have found a solution for detecting pain in sheep from foot rot through their facial expressions and Alibaba uses AI to speed up detection of pregnant pigs in an industrial pig farm. A digital identity would be the first step necessary to introduce interspecies money.

From my slides on the Interspecies Money video on Doom&GloomHQ—Here is the source for Amazon SageMaker used for Indonesia’s Orangutan Facial Recognition

In an article authored by Jonathan Ledgard (creator of the concept of interspecies money) published on Project Syndicate, Ledgard contends that animals suffer because they have no independent financial means. Since, currently, most animals’ sole economic value “is that of their processed body parts. Giving them a digital wallet linked to their identity and the ability to spend money on their own protection could improve their lives and increase their chances of survival.” It is worth highlighting that Ledgard is a futurist thinker on risk, nature, and technology in Africa, a foreign correspondent for The Economist, and a pioneer in drone delivery.


In the Brookings paper, Ledgard asserts that interspecies money is capable of positive changes because it makes rare life forms worth more alive than dead. As I stated in the beginning, the bigger ambition for Linnaeus (the interspecies money transfer service) is to scale and make gains in computational game theory. Side note: Carl Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist and taxonomist who influenced the work of Gregor Mendel. He established a universally accepted method for naming organisms (taxonomy)—he started the use of binomial nomenclature. Anyway, game theory is used in:

Antagonistic situations such as stopping malicious behaviour on a computer network or predicting pirate attacks on shipping lanes. Linnaeus will turn interspecies money into a game by laying a meta layer on the world which can be tweaked and improved. The game tells humans that certain nearby species have money and want to spend it on services they can provide. Services and incentives can be adjusted towards an equilibrium that benefits both animals and community. The game will be played for as long as the extinction threat exists, or until interspecies money is no longer a relevant or welcome intervention in nature.

From my slides on the Interspecies Money video on Doom&GloomHQ

This disturbing article predicts a not so distant future where reptiles, bees, plants, and even bacteria have their own individual digital wallets of money that they can spend on services. The mission of Linnaeus is to make it possible for humans to send money to non-human life forms. The plan would work like this: animals and people would all get digital wallets to hold crypto (with the currency linked to real commodities like precious metals aka tokenizing natural resources that I covered here). Animals get their payments from human donors in their digital wallets — that ways the animals can pay people in their vicinity to provide services like habitat restoration, pollution reduction or putting a stop to poaching.

Furthermore, as the Linnaeus white paper details, AI and multi-agent simulations would “gather data about animals and how facial recognition will identify individual wallet-holders.” In the DARPA presentation I shared a few paragraphs ago, they even detailed a plan to developplants capable of serving as next-generation, persistent, ground-based sensors to protect deployed troops and the homeland by detecting and reporting on chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive threats.”

Source: DARPA Advanced Plant Technologies (APT)

To Close:

As I stated in the opening, there is a connection between DARPA’s influence campaign programs (like SMISC and INCAS) and their research regarding social media and Jonathan Ledgard’s interspecies currencies. This is the case because they both have, similar, larger goals (specifically in affective computing and computational game theory). In order to do behavior analytics and predict people’s actions to stop them from causing harm (which is the stated purpose of game theory) affective computing is a critical component because it is used in smart surveillance.

Of course the interspecies currency has larger ecological implications considering the fact that certain influential figures think it is just dandy to track, trace, and tokenize all natural resources (down to the microscopic level—as in, bacteria). And, unsurprisingly, all of that data will be funneled into the impact investing space for venture capitalists to speculate on—the usual. Check out Leo Saraceno’s article for a detailed breakdown on how data aggregation and expansion of debt finance feed the beast that is the evidence-based social impact economy (or circular economy). I will end it here for now, but I hope some of the connections I was trying to show made sense. Sometimes, two seemingly unrelated topics can be more intertwined than we think. I will probably write a Part II because I just started reading a few computer science books (for laymen, that is) so, I’ll have more to say on this in a few weeks.

Peace and blessings,