Mitre calls all innovators for ID contest

Name game competition seeks to bolster federal ID capabilities

Mitre Corp., a not-for-profit organization that advises the government on innovative technology coming from the private sector, has launched an identity recognition competition open to techies, amateurs and professionals, individuals, and teams alike.

The idea is to encourage the creation of new and better technology that will help the government more accurately find and match people’s names or spot similarity of names in database records.

Because of spelling discrepancies and differing renderings of names across cultures, such technologies have become increasingly valuable assets for the nation’s security agencies as they search for suspected terrorists, enemy combatants or illegal immigrants, said Keith Miller, principal artificial intelligence engineer at Mitre, who also is the project leader of the challenge.

Better name matching technology also would help verify Social Security or medical benefits eligibility, identify and reunify families in disaster relief operations, vet people against a travel watch list, and merge or eliminate duplicate records in databases.

Name matching can also be used to improve the accuracy and speed of document searches, social network analysis, and other tasks in which the same person might be referred to by multiple versions or spellings of a name, Miller said.

“For example, take the name Maria Jose Hernandez Gonzalez," he said. "Anglo names don’t usually have multiple-part surnames. So if you put that name in a database, there is the question of where the Hernandez is going to go, where the Gonzalez is going to go."

“You might completely miss a [database] record because you’re querying for Hernandez as the middle name in a first name-middle name-last name database, instead of as the surname,” he added.

Miller said a Mitre vice president came up with the idea for the contest. He was inspired by Netflix, the film rental company that ran a $1 million prize competition to create better technology to suggest to subscribers other films they might enjoy based on the ones they had already rented.

“So we built a prototype in-house just to prove the concept to show that we could essentially make our evaluation infrastructure that we had in the identity-matching lab accessible to the outside world over a Web interface,” Miller said.

The first round of the contest runs through the spring. Subsequent challenges in image analysis, signal processing and privacy enhancing technologies will follow.

The competition is open to virtually everyone – academic institutions, commercial companies, government laboratories, and individuals.

“The barriers for entry are very, very low,” Miller said. Individuals or teams – from multinational companies to “Joe in his garage who thinks he has a good idea – can register to compete.”

“Our hope is that the spirit of collegial competition will fast-track the development of critical innovations,” Miller said.

But unlike the Netflix Prize, there is no $1 million award for Mitre winners.

In fact, there is no cash prize at all. Developers of winning technologies that are adapted by government will earn the thanks of a grateful nation.

Details are available here.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

Reader Comments

Tue, Mar 1, 2011

Regarding "there is no $1 million award for Mitre winners", how come there is no monetary award to incentive participation? Also, can GCN report the amount of the government contract to Mitre for this project? Was the contract sole sourced or was it competitively bid? If Mitre wants people to participate and solve the problem for free, then they should also provide free services to the Federal government.

Tue, Mar 1, 2011 already has a system for taking in approximate names and generating a list of possibilities. The Soundex system is a way of doing this. Perhaps someone at MITRE should start looking at the genealogy sites to see what they use.

Tue, Mar 1, 2011

disguised as privacy enhancing -- this contest is everything but privacy enhancing. why is MITRE and the government so hung up with finding everyone's personal information, location, and detail about people? whatever happened to "live free or die" or "innocent until proven guilty". collecting information on people for the "just in case" scenario is unethical, highly vulnerable to misuse and compromise, and just plain wrong. it is also very EXPENSIVE and adds $Billions to the national debt and deficit. whatever happened to the "constitution" and all that other hooey everyone makes noise about. MITRE is an unnecessary drain on valuable financial resources. the federal government shouldn't be financing programs like these disguised as open source contests. MITRE should already have the expertise to solve this problem, otherwise the federal government should hire another company.

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