Behind every mad scientist there is an even more insane project leader. After all, someone has to pay for all those laser equipped sharks, mind control weapons and doomsday devices. In today’s world, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency seems to be the institution most experienced in pushing forward mad ideas, and employing Dr. Evil types. Only recently, they have commissioned flesh-eating machines, deadly nanobot swarms, death rays and behemoth space cruisers.
Before you laugh at those projects, keep in mind that DARPA has a good track record in bringing risky ideas to life. After all, we owe them the Internet. All those silly memes, redundant social networks, information overload, and Rebecca Black came to be only because of the work on ARPANET funded by DARPA in the 60’s.
A look at their workbenches might prove to be a peek into the future. That’s why we’ve thrown together this list, to show you what kind of toys people from DARPA would love to get their hands on now.
1) Multi-generation Space Ship
DARPA recently surprised all Sci-Fi fans by starting the work on an advanced space ship project. Yes, the Department of Defense wants to have its own USS Enterprise. They are looking for technological solutions enabling them to build a ship that could be self-sustainable in deep space for at least a full century, and to perform long-range missions.
There are 40 stars within 16 light years from Earth. This ship, coupled with a powerful main drive (Nuclear Pulse Propulsion comes to mind), could potentially reach all of them. Space colonization might be closer than you think.
If you have some spaceship blueprints lying around, or just some experience in surviving one hundred years of space travel, be sure to help DARPA out.
2) The flesh eating robot
When designing autonomous combat drones, energy source and power consumption are some of the main issues. No point in fielding a robotic army if it runs out of juice in a couple of hours. There are many renewable sources but they are not always suitable for use on a battlefield. For a combat vehicle, basking in the sun for hours to charge up the batteries is not always an option. Especially during the nuclear winter.
DARPA came up with a brilliant solution to the problem – an EATR robot that can chop up and ingest biomass, including human bodies. I hope they will give it a copy of the three laws of robotics, before they send it to hunt insurgents…
An autonomic robot that can eat humans? What could possibly go wrong!
3) Lasers. Lots of ‘em
People at DARPA really love them lazerz. They want big lasers to punch the holes in enemy ships, medium lasers to fire away at enemy’s missiles, small lasers for aircraft or vehicles and handheld lasers for US troops. They even want the blue lasers – to provide a fast and silent method of communicating with the submarines.
Damn, that’s a lot of lasers. They’re not planning to put them on sharks yet, but who knows…
The program is called Silent Talk, and it’s main goal is to “allow user-to-user communication on the battlefield without the use of vocalized speech through analysis of neural signals”. That’s a short for mind reading, if you haven’t guessed.
DARPA already conducted some successful tests on monkeys, getting them to control robotic arms. But reading the brainwaves is only a first step. DARPA also wants to manipulate them with pulsed ultrasounds, hoping to boost soldier’s alertness, relieve stress and help them deal with injury traumas.
5) Quantum entanglement
“DARPA’s Quantum Entanglement Science and Technology program is creating new quantum information science technologies, focusing on loss of information due to quantum decoherence, limited communication distance due to signal attenuation, protocols, and larger numbers of quantum bits (Qubits) and their entanglement. Key among the program’s challenges is integrating improved single- and entangled-photon and electron sources and detectors into quantum computation and communication networks”
Sounds cool, right?
It seems to be quite a jump from quantum physics to bed-time stories, but DARPA is also interested in the science of storytelling. They want to know what makes us tick, what inspires us and gives us motivation, and to “better understand the thoughts and feelings of others”. It’s not about the hippie love and tree-hugging, though. The final goal is to navigate the “human terrain” of a modern battlefield. To sway enemies to your side. Most likely, they will end up telling middle-eastern children fairytales about the good uncle Sam. Get ‘em while they’re young, DARPA!
And all you home grown Goebbels’s and Eisensteins, please feel free to join this project.
7) Nanobot swarm
DARPA’s experts are looking for a way to field swarms of intelligent nanoparticles, a “cyber-dust” that could get everywhere, provide intelligence, map cities or underground bunkers. It could also take out hostiles. DARPA suggests that a nanobot can enter enemy soldier’s body and disable him temporarily by altering a single amino acid in his spinal cord. Or it can simply melt his face off. It all comes down to how mischievous the programmers of those things are, and they have to be quite creative, because they even came up with a nice name for this face-melting tech. They call it the “weapons of minuscule destruction”.
Team 6 of the future is just a handful of nano-dust.
The list goes on…
The projects I’ve mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg. DARPA has much more in the pipeline, including flying Humvees, pills that can replace sleep, personal jetpacks, holographic glasses, armored exoskeletons, and many, many others.
Even though some of their projects are genuinely scary, I can’t help myself but to wish them luck. Why? Today, in some ways, humanity seems to be regressing. We’re dropping advanced space programs, stopping SETI, slowing down our transport. Americans are going to give NASA only $19 billion for all its projects in 2011 – at the same time they will spend $586 billion on gambling, $64 billion on illegal drugs, and $27 billion on pizza. The manned mars mission was estimated at $30 billion. Enough for a single individual to fund it, yet no country or organization wants to do it.
DARPA is one leg in the future, and the other – knee deep in madness. But maybe that’s exactly the thing we need to push the world forward?