March 15, 2004
After I read this Wired article, I was grooving on DARPA for a good little while. If you haven’t heard about DARPA’s Grand Challenge, here’s the dish. They posted a prize of $1 million for any engineering team that could make an unmanned vehicle capable of driving from L.A. to Las Vegas. The Grand Challenge was a race for all the qualifying vehicles, to see which was the best.
Such a great idea, right? There’s no way to spark innovation like a contest. The favored teams would all spend two and three times $1 million to build their vehicles anyway, so this was all about the thrill and prestige of victory. And DARPA could pick and choose from all the technological wonderworks these teams would dream up to make something truly revolutionary.
And on top of it all, DARPA’s Grand Challenge website was fun and happy-looking; not at all what you’d expect from some stuffy government project. The FAQ included down-home humor, like: “it is expected that most teams will modify existing off-road vehicles for the Challenge, although who knows what could slither or crawl across the starting line.”
Well, the race was Saturday. None of the vehicles got even eight miles past the starting point. So, it was kind of a bust. But good times were had.
Still kind of grooving on DARPA … until I read this article. Eerie reminder of Total Information Awareness. Reports of DARPA’s plans to build a giant floating surveillance blimp to watch entire cities and track individual civilians. And, creepiest of all (to me at least), notes about DARPA’s research into technology that can grow and heal itself.
The rational, naive side of me says, “No, this is good. Self-repairing humanoid machines can clearly only be used for totally benign purposes, and will of course remain at all times under human control, despite DARPA’s efforts to produce military technology that can mimic humans’ heuristic capacities and awareness of their environment.” The even more rational, and now utterly paranoid, side of me says, “The Terminator is now governing California.”
Step three: panic!