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What DARPA's Been Up To, At Length 54

Posted by timothy
from the one-long-list-of-credits dept.
The New York Times takes an inside look at DARPA, the secretive defense agency, mentioned frequently on Slashdot, that is "changing the way we use machines — and the way they use us" in the form of a review of Michael Belfiore's The Department of Mad Scientists. Besides tracing the history of the agency, Belfiore's book expounds on the well-known Grand Challenge and its link to ever-more-automated vehicle control in civilian and military contexts, as well as other DARPA pet projects, including robotic surgery, information analysis, and the integration of electronics with the human body.
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What DARPA's Been Up To, At Length

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  • Metal Gear.
    • The first time I'd ever heard of DARPA was when I played Metal Gear Solid. Ever since then, I've always had the ideas of DARPA and Metal Gear irrevocably tied together in my mind. They'd better hurry up on that Metal Gear too, because Japan's military research have a Gundam project going on! Granted, right now it has a more ungainly shuffle than that damn deceptively marketed Robo Raptor (I bought one of those... I felt so cheated), but you never know; some genius may step in and accelerate the project.

  • by philgross (23409) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @09:57AM (#30562866) Homepage
    No mention of the disastrous Bush-era reign of Tony Tether [wikipedia.org] at DARPA? With an incurious, aggressive president, we got an incurious, aggressive DARPA head, who cut long-term and academic research in favor of short-term corporate research. His dumping by Obama led to joy and celebrations [chronicle.com] (OK, cautious hope) across the land.
    • by general_re (8883)
      "+5, reinforces my pre-existing worldview"

      So, people who want DARPA money think it's a good idea when they get it, and a bad idea when someone else gets it. Can we get an assessment from someone who isn't so obviously vested in the outcome of DARPA's budget?
    • During that "disasterous" period, DARPA made progress on the "Proto 1" and "Proto 2" cyborg arms, and the military (not sure if DARPA specifically) funded Bussard's "Polywell" fusion project.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by khallow (566160)

      With an incurious, aggressive president, we got an incurious, aggressive DARPA head, who cut long-term and academic research in favor of short-term corporate research.

      I agree as long as we make the translation, "long-term and academic research" == useless research and "short-term research" == useful research. It's worth noting that Anthony Tether headed DARPA over the period when DARPA became popular on Slashdot due to its much cooler projects. To be blunt, for all the talk of the value of academic research, it really isn't that useful or interesting. I'm sure academics are overjoyed to be able to hog the public fund trough again, but that doesn't mean that they deserve

    • by Animats (122034) on Sunday December 27, 2009 @02:03PM (#30564226) Homepage

      Tony Tether (whom I've met) did a reasonably good job with DARPA. Especially in robotics. He was behind the DARPA Grand Challenge, which was done partly to give academic robotics departments a serious butt-kick. Academic robotics had been funded by DARPA for decades, but nothing fieldable was coming out. The reason that major universities devoted entire departments to the Grand Challenge was that DARPA had told them quietly that if they didn't do well, their funding was going away. Prior to the Grand Challenge, a typical academic robotics project was one professor and a few grad students producing a thesis on an obscure topic. Universities weren't organized to do system integration and make all the subsystems play together. Now they are.

      It was time to cut back on Government-funded R&D in computer science, because it's a mature technology. DARPA shouldn't be funding "high performance graphics" - industry, Hollywood, and the game industry are doing that just fine. Networking is in good shape. DARPA hasn't been influential in operating systems since the 1980s. DARPA never had much of a role in personal computing at all.

      DARPA isn't the NSF. Their job is to develop technology DoD can use.

    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by kilodelta (843627)
      Yeah, Bush was famous for putting people with no real subject relevant experience in control of agencies like DARPA, NASA and any other science endeavors.

      The whole motive of the Bush administration was two fold, loot the middle class and employ nepotism as far and widely as possible.
  • Science and ethics (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The interesting bit in the article is about modern-day Cybrogs and how we and machines are getting integrated. Of course the article is designed to startle - after all people will read it only if it challenges them. But should we really be scared?

    It is not really any more alarming then "machines that can actually create cloth" were in the early 19th century. That too was a ceding of a human ability to machine enhancement.

    We need to realize that we always were part machine - albeit chemical and biological on

    • Very insiteful. I really like the last bit:

      Our humanity is in danger from only one thing: laziness. If, due to our own laziness we give away our free will, social intelligence and inquisitive inventive mind - then we are in trouble. That would happen if we allow educational standards to keep slipping. It certainly could happen, but its up to us.

  • The interesting bit in the article is about modern-day Cybrogs and how we and machines are getting integrated. Of course the article is designed to startle - after all people will read it only if it challenges them. But should we really be scared?

    It is not really any more alarming then "machines that can actually create cloth" were in the early 19th century. That too was a ceding of a human ability to machine enhancement.

    We need to realize that we always were part machine - albeit chemical and biologi
    • by novar21 (1694492)
      I am not sure educational standards have an effect on laziness. Laziness is not assigning priority to socially acceptable norms and actions. Attitudes and social engineering should be the focus if we are to keep our free will. These are normally shaped and developed in our communication media such as TV, News papers, Radio.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by giladpn (1657217)
        Well, novar21, I see your point. But if we are dependant on TV etc then we have lost the fight without a struggle.

        True fact: my family does not have a TV at our home, though we do have a DVD. The result: my children actually read books, as well as watch relatively high-quality movies.

        In other words: education is not just about the educational "system". We as parents can and should take control.
        • True fact: my family does not have a TV at our home, though we do have a DVD. The result: my children actually read books, as well as watch relatively high-quality movies.

          So does this DVD you have beam the images from these relatively high-quality movies directly into your brain?

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Perhaps it is the combination of all this in a single package: we are multi-purpose, FLEXIBLE, animals.

      I think it has something to do with being able to use fire, although whether that came from brain development or vice versa might be the next question. There's other social, tool-making, inquisitive animals.

      • by giladpn (1657217)
        I wish I knew enough about how we evolved to become such flexible animals. You may be right that learning to use fire was a milestone.

        Others may feel that walking upright was the critical factor; or perhaps omnivore behavior; or perhaps the development of our language skills.

        I don't know; and your take may be correct. I am just saying that we ARE flexible animals, and that - however it came to be - is a big part of what makes us human.
    • by TheLink (130905)
      > So what makes us human?

      The laws. As long as the laws say something is human it's human :).

      > Perhaps it is free will,

      This is very important too, from a strategic POV.

      It is dangerous for humans to say stuff like:
      1) It's not my fault, I have no choice - I'm born like that.
      2) We have no free will
      3) We are just machines

      Because defective machines can be discarded a lot more easily than defective humans. So even if 1-3 are true, a wise human might want to maintain the illusion that they are special ;).

      Anyw
  • ah well , about time they started with skynet. The world is supposed to be in ashes by 2018 , so they better hurry.

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