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DARPA Uses Preteen Gamers To Beta Test Tomorrow's Military Software 84

Daniel_Stuckey writes with a story about an interesting (or, you might think, creepy) institution at the University of Washington's Seattle campus. It's the Center for Game Science, a research lab that makes educational video games for children, and that received the bulk of its funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the wing of the U.S. Department of Defense that supports research into experimental military technology. Why is DARPA the original primary funder of the CGS? According to written and recorded statements from current and former DARPA program managers, as well as other government documents, the DARPA-funded educational video games developed at the CGS have a purpose beyond the pretense of teaching elementary school children STEM skills.
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DARPA Uses Preteen Gamers To Beta Test Tomorrow's Military Software

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  • Ender's Game (Score:5, Insightful)

    by I'm New Around Here ( 1154723 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @02:42PM (#47672357)

    I knew it was real.

    Watch the skies for the Bugs.

    • by mi ( 197448 )

      Well, in "Ender's Game" the plan resulted in a wonderful victory for our side... It is a sad story because of the genocide of the enemy, but not because children's abilities were creatively used by the military.

  • by Joe Gillian ( 3683399 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @02:43PM (#47672365)

    Looks like the military picked up a copy of Ender's Game and assumed it was some kind of manual for how they should do things. Let's just hope they never find a copy of Neuromancer.

  • It looks like someone at DARPA just couldn't turn down the chance to be the next Centauri.
    • You deserve extra points for not saying Ender's Game.
      • by doug ( 926 )

        You deserve extra points for not saying Ender's Game.

        The only thing that made me think of Ender's Game was the word "preteen". Using video games to train/recruit soldiers always makes me think of The Last Starfighter.

    • Who wouldn't want six prehensile two meter long penises. For that I could live with the funny hairstyles.
      Nevermind, I was thinking Babylon 5.
    • There's trouble right here in the galaxy, Trouble with a capital T that doesn't rhyme with K that stands for Ko-Dan.

  • The only way this could've been closer is if the game they were developing was Starcraft, but they missed that window by about 16 years.

  • by Anonymous Coward
  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @02:50PM (#47672431)

    global thermonuclear war

  • by oneiros27 ( 46144 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @02:54PM (#47672469) Homepage

    Are we just trying to make reference to Robin Williams all week?

    This is just yet another sign that the military saw the movie 'Toys' ... as if the whole drone program wasn't an obvious enough sign: []

  • NSF has been shifting its funding away from CS research, and DARPA has been moving a bigger proportion of its funding from basic research to near-term applied research. As a result, there are more and more strings attached to research-grant money. Some kind of "dual-use" thing where you're doing the research you want to do, which DARPA also happens to be able to repurpose for its own uses, is if anything the best case. It's not that uncommon to just straight be working on whatever DARPA wants done.

  • makes sense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cardoor ( 3488091 ) on Thursday August 14, 2014 @03:04PM (#47672557)
    if you're going to increasingly recruit military from an under-class who have been left behind by the education system (and so have few other career options but to act as the enforcers of the state) you need to make sure the tech is comfortably within their technical grasp.
    • maybe they can even fast-track some of the kids that excel and have them skip high-school and go straight to! i just killed some more people!
    • Does anyone else remember when "America's Army" came out, just before the Iraq 'war'? It was a free first person shooter, and a very advanced game (for the time). Coincidence? I think not...
      • by mi ( 197448 )

        Does anyone else remember when "America's Army" came out, just before the Iraq 'war'? It was a free first person shooter, and a very advanced game (for the time). Coincidence? I think not...

        Well, in that case, what is the meaning of the new game, where you shoot members of the Tea Party []? Celebration of tolerance? Respect for other people's opinions?

        Please, don't hate.

        • At the time that "America's Army" came out, most FPS's were only being sold for a high price, but 'AA' was a very playable, free to download (though large, for the time (100+MB) and solid 'game'. After a short time, America needed a volunteer army. After the fact, it makes a lot of sense why that game got distributed, from a military point of view.
    • This was actually my first thought as well. You need a system that 8 year olds can navigate proficiently, because you're going to have a lot of folks in the army who don't have an education much past that, who will need to rely on these systems for their life, potentially while under fire. It has to be able to model complex scenarios and yet deliver it in a way that promotes clarity and simplicity.

      I mean, what's the alternative? Make it complex and expect dullards will rise to the challenge, completely

      • while i grok you on the details, you seem to be on a very different wavelength on the motivations. using pre-teens to design weapons which can be run by people who otherwise could not harness the mental competence to do so on their own, also means that the operators themselves lack the ability to do anything other than follow the orders of their masters. kill ---- there. drone ------ there.

        the more i think about it, the more i think the article should probably be re-titled 'DARPA Uses Tomorrow's Military
      • ... you're going to have a lot of folks in the army who don't have an education much past that...

        I don't know what the requirements are for enlistment now, but I do know that back when I was in the Navy ('Nam era) it was pretty much a given that everybody in the Navy had at least graduated from High School. Of course, back then, the Navy had the highest mental standards (and the Marines the lowest, although they did have the highest physical standard) and I don't know what the Army required. Now that t
  • by quietwalker ( 969769 ) <> on Thursday August 14, 2014 @03:11PM (#47672603)

    This isn't some sort of military indoctrination, or child-warrior program.

    They're evaluating adaptive learning software, doing UI/UX evaluations, and so on. Yes, DARPA's goals focus on future military application, but despite the comments above, they're not making this some sort of Ender's game scenario with 8 year old kids flying drones. These kids are playing games that are trying to teach them STEM skills, and doing so with a sort of machine-learning backing. So the kids are learning, they get to use cutting-edge software backed by a hefty financial contribution, and the end result could be a new way to provide computer-aided teaching.

    So there's no need to cry, "Think of the children!" - they're doing fine.

    It's also good to note that these concepts are not restricted to military applications. Take a quick look over DARPA's history - much less the history of military science in general - and you'll see a bunch of amazing creations that we use in our day to day lives. Like the internet, GPS or the continued funding and support for self-driving cars and autonomous robotics.

    One caveat: I'm not saying that military funding, DARPA or otherwise, shouldn't be transparent and examined, but in this case, there's no problem other than people who can't demux 'military' with 'automatically bad'.

    • by LduN ( 3754243 )
      But think of the children... at the very least we need the NSA to monitor 100% of everything going on with the kids when they are out of this federally funded testing site.
      • by LduN ( 3754243 )
        Forgot to mention that they also need to monitor closely all those "relevant" to the children... you know from immediate family to those people that happen to have possibly glimpsed the child on their drive/walk.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah isn't it great? The amazing things we build today to go bomb innocent women and children in the third world are used tomorrow to indoctrinate our own citizens to stand behind government and cheer them on in doing it.

    • Rather than defend the X number of kids who 'are learning'... how about devote the same dollar resources to the actual broken national public education system and create 1,000,000X kids who are learning? im sick of the fallacious argument of 'well, if not for military funding, we wouldn't have X, Y, or Z wonderful science!' It falsely presumes that human beings need war as a motivating factor to devote resources toward technological betterment, and that there would not have otherwise been any progress.
    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Or it could be they're testing the next-generation of UIs so when those children grow up to be of serving age, they can easily sit down and use them in war.

      They're children now, and will take at least a decade before something real comes out. That's about long enough to take the DARPA research stuff and implement in military hardware so by the time the children hit 18, it's ready.

      DARPA is research, and it can take many years to commercialize the research. Being military related, well, a decade is probably t

    • they're not making this some sort of Ender's game scenario with 8 year old kids flying drones

      No, but they can use what they learn about 8-year-old kids to best adapt methods for 18-year-old kids.

      Just ask any insurance actuary when humans mature mentally - for men it's about 25 (women earlier but one cannot have "sexist" policies in the US, damn the data).

      Raise the age of majority and enlistment to 25 and they'd have to reinstitute a draft to fight wars like Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. Kids sign up eagerly - mat

    • quietwalker, you are treading dangerous waters. If you talk sense here, people won't be sure if you're on their side or not, and then they won't know whether to mod you up or down. Look at the other replies to your comment...they've got you practically eating babies already. Stop making sense and expecting people to think. I find it's best to make jokes.

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )

      So the kids are learning, they get to use cutting-edge software backed by a hefty financial contribution, and the end result could be a new way to provide computer-aided teaching.

      I was thinking first having kids learn about finances so they learn at early age the basics instead of becoming like many adults burden with debt from misuse of credit cards and borrowing plans. But that's another topic.

      Getting back to this topic, I haven't seen the movie or read the book but I looked up Enders' Game to see what reference was. It seems creepy the parallels. Perhaps my Gripe of the Month is so much value is placed on warfare but I guess that's were progress is made. i.e. computers, interne

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The replies to you are hilarious. Too many Slashdot trolls think military = kill people.

      While the military's primary role is the application of force in the nation's interests, they also do quite a lot in other areas. Medical/dental training, engineering, disaster relief, organizational management, trade skills such as welding, pipe fitting, electrical work, machine operations, are all things the military relies on heavily, all of which require training. They are exploring methods to find ways to encoura

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The military relies almost exclusively on private companies for technology development not DARPA. The military also brought some teenagers in to evaluate and offer suggestions for the F-22.cockpit control layouts. The teenagers were given very little knowledge of the systems involved and part of the testing and evaluations was to see how long it would take to intuitively understand the functionality by themselves. On average the testers pretty much figured every thing out in about 30 minutes and started mak

  • Gouge out the Giant's eyes...
  • You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada
  • where children fight wars for adults like it was some kind of video game..... I think it was called Star Wars - Episode I.
  • Wasn't this the major plot line of the movie Toys?
  • A while back DARPA had the Adaptive Vehicle Make(AVM) project which was to combat the exponentially growing cost of military hardware development by implementing an opensource hardware hackerspace/fablab style model(with more buzzwords than I desire to recall).

    Part of this project was MENTOR(another huge acronym), which was going to set up schools with their own makerspaces and have students "compete against one another in the development of cyber-electro-mechanical systems of moderate complexity such as g

  • throw kids in front of some machines and see if they can run the war...

  • The first part of the linked article basically seems to imply that the military is developing games that covertly brainwash kids into soldiers. DARPA has no reason to fund anything like that. We're Americans, our culture does that for free!

    Two thirds of the way through, it dispenses with that unstated pretext and makes itself about the military and Federal government's overreach into American educational institutions, which is an excellent point that I can get behind. I wish the author had dispensed with th

  • Wow... that's so close to something else [] at first I thought the name was a joke... given the context where "Sieg Heil" was popularly used...

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Yes wow :)
      As for the need to pull young people in your getting close to Young Pioneer Organization of the Soviet Union []
      Paramilitary group as with Hitler Youth []
      The "military training contexts" as mentioned seems to stand out long term, as with the desperate drive for more basic quality science and math and beyond.
      The UK seem to have consider the same need for science and to build the ranks of its gov and private sectors with:
  • "The US Army is looking to design things based on thousands of soldiers playing video games and lego-blocking up designs. When they figure out what works best in the game, they 3d print the thing. []

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