The Secret Service Is Shopping for Software that Can Tell If You're Just Kidding

Two Secret Service CAT team members walk toward their motorcade vehicle at Brussels Airport in Belgium March 26, 2014. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Thank God for journalists who spend all day combing Secret Service work orders in search of sentences more arousing than “This is a combined synopsis/solicitation for commercial items prepared in accordance with the format prescribed in Subpart 12.6 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.”

Without them, we would not know that the Secret Service is in the market for software that can not only “synthesize large sets of social media data” and analyze user streams in real time, but also has the “ability to detect sarcasm and false positives.” This, presumably, is so the agency can build a stronger and better model of AOL chat bot Smarterchild, one that is impervious to your snark and gags.

No, but really, it’s from a work order that was posted on earlier this week and first noticed by

In bureaucrat-speak, the order seeks the “procurement of a social media analytics software  tool” whose desired capabilities, NextGov points out, also include “sentiment analysis,” influencer identification, access to historical Twitter data” and heat maps.” Also, “compatibility with Internet Explorer 8.” Hmm.

Curiously, the Secret Service seems to have identified one of the last barriers between man and machine: sarcasm. Computers these days can read CAPTCHA and they can recognize your friends’ faces, as we’re chillingly reminded every time we upload a Facebook album. But, as New York magazine’s Science of Us blog notes, programmers have been only moderately successful in training computers to recognize sarcasm. Part of the problem is that humans themselves often fail to catch a sarcastic undertone. Anyone who has ever shared an Onion story on Facebook knows that.

But maybe you’re programming the first digital sarcasm detector. Be quick with it. The deadline to submit a proposal to the Secret Service is June 9.

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