Dec 4, 2013
The U.S. Government Is Metamorphosing Into the Borg
Posted on Jul 22, 2013
By Subhankar Banerjee, ClimateStoryTellers
This piece first appeared at ClimateStoryTellers.
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage—to move in the opposite direction
When I moved to Seattle in 1996, I thought I knew how to order a cup of coffee: “I’ll have a cup of coffee please.” Soon I realized it was more complicated: “I’ll have a Venti soy dolce latte, topped with sprinkled cinnamon and caramel drawing on whip cream, with coffee on the side please.” Talking about the U.S. government is increasingly becoming as challenging as ordering coffee in Seattle: “Petro–imperial, coal–fired, plutocratic, oligarchic, inverted totalitarian, fascist, propagandist, Big Brother, with democracy on the side.” Things are beginning to simplify though. Soon you’ll be able to refer to the U.S. government with a single idea from the science fiction universe of Star Trek: the Borg.
Two recent news stories reveal that Homo sapiens aren’t always loyal to a tyrannical regime. Edward Snowden opened a valve that allowed crude secrets to flow out of NSA’s pipelines—to benefit humanity. And in protest of America’s “dirty wars,” Brandon Toy publicly resigned last week from his job at the US Defense contractor General Dynamics. In his resignation letter, published on Common Dreams, Toy wrote: “I have always believed that if every foot soldier threw down his rifle war would end. I hereby throw mine down.”
What if the U.S. military were to replace not–to–be–trusted Homo sapiens with completely trustworthy Robo sapiens?
Inspired by the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) was launched last October. Nine months later, Atlas, a six–foot tall, 330–pound baby was born (developed by Boston Dynamics with DARPA funding). Atlas “May Foreshadow Age of ‘Robo Sapiens’” is how the New York Times headlined the news. The DRC program manager Gill Pratt gave a rather emotional justification for his program with these words:
The MIT Technology Review noted that “Atlas is designed to eventually take on some of the most dangerous and high–stakes jobs imaginable, such as tending to a nuclear reactor during a meltdown, shutting off a deep–water oil spill, or helping to put out a raging wildfire.” But Atlas isn’t there yet. “We’re talking about a robot roughly on par with the motile competence of a one–year–old child,” according to DARPA. In time though, Atlas and its various siblings that DARPA is creating now, will grow up.
DARPA insists that Atlas is not being designed for adversarial military tasks, but for humanitarian reasons—to aid rescue efforts during future natural and human–made disasters. Not everyone is convinced. “The US military has shown off what may become the soldier of the future: a hulking robot that would easily look at home in Hollywood’s Terminator franchise or an Isaac Asimov novel,” the Australian reported. And Michael Allen opined about Atlas in Opposing Views, “DARPA is famous for trying to create new military weapons, so that could be a possibility as well.” The latter is a good hint worth exploring.
In 1968, when I was one year old, if I had told you that the U.S. government would someday use the Internet to spy on its citizens and people of the world, you would have said: “That’s a toddler talking.” As it turns out, that year, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later renamed DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense approved a plan to develop what would become the ARPANET—the progenitor of what we now call the Internet. The Internet’s gene is through and through military. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Obama administration has figured out a way to spy on all forms of global Internet communications. After Atlas grows up, the “homeland security, anti–terrorism and warfare will never be the same,” the Examiner.com noted.
When the U.S. government assures the public that a particular military program is being developed for humanitarian reasons, should we believe? History tells us we must not.
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