Sky News recently reported that the United States military has granted a multimillion-dollar contract to researchers at West Point, to work on “cognitive fingerprints” that can replace physical characteristics, such as passwords, fingerprints and iris recognition, to identify Web users.
The biometric application program interface as it is being called looks at various aspects of how a user interacts with a device to determine their identity. This can include anything from their typing speed to how a mouse is moved around the screen.
Though the target of the program is to replace or supplement other tools of verification, since it also examines how a document is constructed, it has the added benefit of being able to detect plagiarism by being able to spot anomalies in the user’s writing.
In short, at least when looking at the writing, the U.S. military is attempting to automate what editors, educators and readers have done for as long as the written word has been around, looking for anomalies in writing that may indicate plagiarism or some other issue.
This works because people tend to have very distinctive writing styles. They make the same or similar word choices, structure their sentences and paragraphs in a certain way and generally have a consistent voice that can be picked up by the reader.
The U.S. military, however, is attempting to automate that process, which many thought to be impossible (and may still be). While their system has different aims and looks at a variety of other factors to also determine the identity of the user, it’s still a significant boost to the idea of author uniqueness that the U.S. military is considering it to help identify users in place of fingerprints.
For editors and educators, this project should serve as a reminder that, while plagiarism detection tools are invaluable assets in spotting content misuse, human instincts still play a key role.
Plagiarism detection tools are simply that, tools. They are meant to help guide the process and make the detection of plagiarism faster, easier and more simple. They are not a substitute for human intuition and research.
While automating this process probably isn’t practical for most who evaluate writing, especially since it would likely require a large body of confirmed original work to establish a baseline, humans can still detect changes in tone, style and language that computers struggle with.
And that’s what plagiarism detection software is about, the combination of technology and human instinct to provide efficient and effective detection of plagiarism and other ethical missteps.
The views of this blog represent my own and not the views of WriteCheck.