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Old 11 February 2019, 10:03
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Streck-Fu Streck-Fu is offline
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The Pentagon's Brains: The Uncensored History of DARPA

LINK

By Annie Jacobsen who also authored Area 51 (LINK) which how I found this book.

She calls it the Uncensored history but Unclassified would have been more accurate but not as attention getting. There is some very minor overlap of information about the early AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) from her area 51 book but not enough to feel like you are reading the same thing twice.

It focuses on the history of ARPA (then DARPA) as the creation of the agency is a result of the Sputnik launch and how the US was caught of guard not knowing how far along the Russians were. ARPA was created to develop and maintain technological superiority and prevent "strategic surprises".

The early sections follow the history of the development of nuclear weapons, building into the development frenzy of the Vietnam war. She writes that the M-16 was derived from the AR-15 to provide a lighter weapon that would be easier for the smaller Vietnamese soldiers to handle but it was then adopted as the standard issue rifle. This is the first time I have heard any such thing about being developed for the Vietnamese use.

She describes the electronic sensor program that involved dropping a variety of sensors on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to detect and track movements.

Of course the development of ARPANET and how it lead to the creation of the computer network we now know as the internet.

Segueing from Vietnam into the 80s and 90s was the development of remote control and drone aircraft as well The development of GPS and other such programs.
This expands into nanotech and micro-drones.

The really interesting parts were the later chapters in which she wrote about enhancing human performance or augmenting capabilities. Concepts from exoskeletons to exploring the suppression of pain and fear and fatigue either through pharmaceuticals or neurological stimulation/suppression.

Robotics were well discussed in the later chapters to include the now well known EOD robots.

She also gets into how DARPA explored prosthetics for the purpose of assisting wounded soldiers. There seemed to be a focus on establishing a way for the wearer of the prosthetic to control it with thoughts or stimulus. It would also work the other way where the prosthetic could provide a sensation of touch with the goal being that the user could tell the difference between a grape and a raisin without looking at it. many of these experiments involved wounded soldiers and in one interview, the volunteer questioned DARPA's motivations because the VA was never involved nor since the experiments have any of the developments been made available to the VA or manufacturers of prosthetic. the veteran interviewed felt that they were trying to improve limbs for the use of robotics rather than prosthetics.

Even more interesting were the descriptions of DARPA exploring nanotechnology to include it's use on organisms. It went beyond implanting electrodes in rat brains to train them to respond to stimulus. It is claimed that they implanted minature electrodes into a moth larvae after which the moth would continue to develop. When it was fully grown and hatched, the microprocessor and electrodes were a part of the organism and they could control/track where it flew.

It was alluded that they could put this technology into small insect drones combined with facial recognition to track terrorists and notify of location as well provide video intelligence. Possible weaponization to kill selected individual targets.


She concluded the last chapter by exploring the perpetual question of ethics in technological development and the problems with mitigating unintended consequences. Especially in the areas of robotics and artificial intelligence. As machine learning advances, at what point do you lose control regardless of the instructions, rules, or safeguards put into place? She was not alarmist like the X-files but presented is for thought and discussion along with referring to Eisenhower and his warning of the military-Industrial Complex noting that members of DARPA and the newer Defense Science Board are also executives for contractors and private industry.

I highly recommend it overall.
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