June 24, 2003
DARPA, PNAC and the Perfect Killing Machine
by Maureen Farrell
"We appear to be edging towards an era of 'mind control' -- a time when human brains might be manipulated routinely by highly sophisticated technology. On the bright side, the powers of this science could be used to mend broken and diseased brains. On the dark side, there would be plenty of opportunity to tinker with consciousness and control human behavior in menacing fashion," -- Nicholas Regush, ABC News [LINK]
Earlier this month, Popular Science featured an article on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-funded quest to create "the world's first prosthetic brain part," a silicon microchip, which, when inserted in someone's brain, can either compensate for brain damage -- or create the perfect killing machine. According to the chip's inventor, biomedical engineer Theodore Berger, this technology, (only a few months away from testing) will help Alzheimer's patients and stroke victims, and could "one day lead to cyborg soldiers and robotic servants." [LINK]
While Stepford soldiers may not be marching onward just yet, technology is headed in that direction. Researchers at the State University of New York in New York City successfully implanted electrodes into a rat's brain and turned it into a remote controlled robo-rodent [LINK]; Cybernetics professor and would-be cyborg Kevin Warwick has interacted with machines via an implant in his arm [LINK]; and robots are already serving in the US military. By 2010, DARPA's X-45 (a pilotless, windowless W-shaped plane) will be independently able to discriminate between friend and foe -- and bomb accordingly [LINK]. "The real challenge is to mix man and machines," Colonel Leahy, director of the Gnat drone program, recently said. "It will be a loose ballet at first. But eventually, the systems will be linked to each other, sharing information and deciding among them who has the best shot."
Though that's all well and good, what happens when "mixing man and machines" is taken to extremes? Will physically (or pharmaceutically) altered soldiers become fearless, merciless and remorseless? Could future populations be branded and tracked? And how can we be sure the government won't recycle old tricks?
This is Your Brain on DARPA
In an article published on DARPA's Web site, Dr. Alan Rudolph explains the agency's "Brain Machine Interfaces Program" which will "create new technologies for augmenting human performance" by "access[ing] codes in the brain" and "integrat[ing] them into peripheral device or system operations." In other words, machines and man will most decidedly "mix," giving US soldiers a sizable edge. While some of this sounds benign, and in many ways, even desirable, there are deeper, more frightening implications.
"Feedback could be received from peripheral systems or sent directly into appropriate brain regions," Rudolph writes, shortly before entering into "it puts the lotion in the basket" dehumanization mode. "Demonstrations of plasticity from the neural system and from an integrated working device or system that result in real time control under relevant conditions of force perturbation and cluttered sensory environments from which tasks must be performed," he adds. [LINK]
Regardless how many times one wades through this difficult-to-decipher techno lingo, it's nearly impossible to differentiate the "neural system" from the machine. After a while, one gets the idea that that's the idea.
In December, 2002, DARPA also announced, as ABC News reported, that the government was "tinkering with a soldier's brain using magnetic resonance" in order to fool the body into believing it was well-rested, even after being awake for up to seven consecutive days and nights. "Eliminating the need for sleep during an operation ... will create a fundamental change in war fighting and force employment," DARPA officials asserted. Though sleep deprivation during combat carries certain risks -- as evidenced when two pilots accidentally killed Canadian troops in Afghanistan after taking Air Force-issued amphetamines [LINK] -- DARPA has no qualms about fooling Mother Nature. "This program is really out of the box," John Carney, director of DARPA's Continuous Assisted Performance program reported. "We want to look at capabilities in nature and leverage it so we can apply it in ways that no one thought possible." [LINK]
And if that's not unsettling enough, DARPA's Information Awareness Office, under the stewardship of John Poindexter, plans to use "biometric signatures of humans," which means that data will be collected on individuals' gaits, faces and irises -- in addition to fingerprints. [LINK]
Skin-Patch Pharmaceuticals: Be All You Can Be!
Much has been written about the Project for a New American Century's (PNAC) not-so-secret goal of global supremacy, as well as the sizable influence PNAC members Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Lewis Libby, John Bolton had in drafting Bush's policy of preemption. In their view, the US military is "the cavalry on the new American frontier" whose mission is to "fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theater wars." Yet they also acknowledge that the military needs to be radically transformed -- and, according to PNAC's published report, "Rebuilding America's Defenses," the Army is in for some interesting alterations. "Consider just the potential changes that might effect the infantryman," they wrote. "Future Soldiers may operate in encapsulated, climate-controlled, powered fighting suits, laced with sensors and boasting chameleon-like 'active' camouflage while 'skin-patch' pharmaceuticals help regulate fears, focus concentration and enhance endurance and strength." ([LINK] , p. 62).
In keeping with PNAC's vision (and thanks to a $50 million grant from the US Army), MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies is manufacturing military uniforms in which, as Clamor Magazine put it, "Human soldiers themselves are being transformed into modern cyborgs through robotic devices and nanotechnology." And though the Navy has addressed "performance enhancement" medications [LINK], there is no word yet on the long-term effects of the proposed mind-altering pharmaceutical patch.
The Virtual Soldier
If you've ever visited Universal Studio's "Terminator II: 3D" attraction, you probably recall the chirpy PR infomercial in which a child is tucked in bed by a steel robotic claw, as her mother phones from half a world away. One gets the same surreal sense of artificial caring while reading DARPA's plans for a virtual soldier.
"The [Virtual Solider] program," Dr. Richard Silva explains, "will create the mathematical modeling approaches to develop an information (computational) representation of an individual soldier (a holographic medical electronic representation or holomer) that can be used to augment medical care on and off the battlefield with a new level of integration." In other words, injured soldiers will be treated by a hologram that will perform certain tasks, including, "the automatic diagnosis of battlefield injuries" and "prediction of soldier performance." [LINK] What happens, however, if the diagnosis is dire and predictions of solider performance aren't up to snuff? Hopefully, the hologram won't be named "Hal."
The Scariest Thing Ever
During last summer's missing children scare, U.S. citizens were treated to surreal super-hyped moments -- despite the fact that incidents of kidnapping had actually decreased. One particular low point came when a mother from Texas, whose infant was stolen the day before, gave a nationally televised, "we interrupt this program" press conference, even though she didn't speak English and her baby was returned unharmed. Creepily enough, the following day, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a front page story on why parents should consider having their children implanted with microchips -- and safely tracked by global satellite positioning systems. "We have [global positioning system (GPS)] units for our cars," Applied Digital spokesperson Matthew Cossolo said "If your car is stolen, we can locate it. Do we love our cars more than our children?" [LINK]
Soon to be mounted on soldiers' helmets [LINK] (or perhaps one day implanted in soldiers' bodies, as UCLA's Journal of Law and Technology predicts [LINK]), GPS technology will also be implanted in remote-controlled rats and used for military functions [LINK]. And though the benefits are undeniable, "chipping," has disturbing undertones -- particularly considering the potential to eventually control humans. "I think that a lot of people are very wary of that sort of thing and understandably so," Kate Rears, a policy analyst at the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington told the Associated Press. "I don't think it's a sign of paranoia to react against this because it is very odd. It's Brave New Worldish."
University of Kansas research professor Jerome Dobson (who created the maps used in global satellite tracking systems) takes it a step further, and says that this technology has created a threat of "geoslavery," that, in his opinion, that could make "George Orwell's 'Big Brother' nightmare...look amateurish." "I've spoken about this at academic conferences," Dobson said. "I find that the first reaction people have is, maybe, disbelief. But if I talk for two minutes, suddenly they begin to turn somber and say, 'This is the scariest thing I have ever seen.'" [LINK]
A Tale of Two Realms
Lately, several op-eds have centered on the movie The Matrix's apt commentary on our illusionary, propagandized world [LINK] -- and though ruminations on the gap between "what is real and what Americans perceive as real" are all too relevant, the sci-fi thriller is also a cautionary tale about where technology might lead. "It's so weird to say this," producer Joel Silver told the Sydney Morning Herald, "but it's a treatise on our times and where we're going and how to not go there." Matrix cast members were reportedly required to read Kevin Kelly's Out of Control: The Rise of Neo-biological Civilization, which centers on "Singularity," the place, for lack of a better definition, where man and machine merge. "The realm of the born -- all that is nature -- and the realm of the made -- all that is humanly constructed -- are becoming one," Kelly wrote in 1994.
Acclaimed author and award-winning inventor Ray Kurzweil also says this man/machine meld is inevitable. "The union of human and machine is well on its way," he wrote. "Ultimately we will become more nonbiological than biological." [LINK] And though an enthusiastically willing subject, "Professor Cyborg" Warwick made an unnerving observation after being implanted with the "smart card" microchip that connected him to machines. "I feel mentally different," he told ABC News in 1998. "When I am in the building I feel much more closely connected with the computer. I am not a separate thing." [LINK]
Renowned scientist Bill Joy believes technology is "threatening to make humans an endangered species," [LINK] while more than a decade ago, San Diego University Professor of Computer Science Vernor Vinge warned, "Within 30 years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will end." Is this hyperbole? Or do implanted microchips and DARPA's "man-as-machine" approach to soldiering give real cause for concern? And how on earth does the government get away with "tinkering with a soldier's brain," while the general population considers this "the home of the free?"
Welcome to the Monster State
"Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man," the late Joseph Campbell told PBS' Bill Moyers. "When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that's what is threatening the world at this minute. . . [the movie Star Wars] shows the state as a machine and asks, "Is the machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity?"
Anyone appalled by the laundry list of lies the Bush administration told [LINK] to justify their pre-planned war [LINK] realizes that Americans are now in the service of a monster state. We are deliberately fed fabrications [LINK]; our public coffers are pilfered by those who supposedly work for us [LINK] [LINK]; and no one has honestly addressed the ultimate cost or the length of the Iraq occupation. And when are Iraqis going to view us as liberators? [LINK]. No matter. Provided we pay our taxes and feed the Carlyle/Halliburton/Bechtel/WorldCom beast [LINK], it's "Mission Accomplished!"
As The Matrix's Morpheus reminds, "What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. But what is it? . . . It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."
the meantime, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is scheduled for release
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2003, Maureen Farrell
otherwise noted, all original